CLOSE
Original image
Hannah Keyser

Behind the Scenes at the Ostrich Derby and Cameltonian

Original image
Hannah Keyser

The whole race only took about about 20 seconds. And that was for the camels. The ostrich-drawn chariots took even less time, but it's hard to tell for sure without a really discernible start or finish line. In both races, however, all of the participating animals ran—and ran in the correct direction—and because of that, the Meadowlands third annual Ostrich Derby and Cameltonian was a success.

"Come Saturday, three of them might decide to run the right direction and one might decide to run in circles," animal handler Monte McClurg said last Thursday about the camels, who can reach speeds of 35 mph.

As for the ostriches? “These ostriches are about as trained as an ostrich can be," McClurg said. Which appears to be a low standard for comparison. So the forward motion Saturday evening was something to celebrate; but McClurg understands that even if chaos had ensued, well, that would be its own kind of success.

“We’re here to entertain people, so if it takes us an extra three seconds to get across the end of the track, that’s probably for the better," he said. "That’s three more seconds of entertainment.”

The races, which you couldn't bet on (at least, not "officially," I was told), took place in between the regular harness races Saturday evening at the New Jersey sports complex just outside Manhattan. It was one of two races for the four camels and three ostriches this past weekend, but don't worry about a rough life on the road for these ungulates and ratites.

Each of the 70-or-so camels raised and trained on Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Nickerson, KS—which is also responsible for the ostriches—only travel to three or four races each year, spending most of their time back at farm. (Although, in December, they do take some time to work the nativity circuit.)

This race featured Snickers, Tantor, and two of their barnmates, although all four were re-branded with more pun-heavy names for the programs. The pack ranged in age from 5 to 10 years old, which is young for camels, who can live up to 40. And each, according to McClurg, has his own gregarious personality.

“Next time someone tells you how mean camels are, you can correct them," he said as Snickers went in for a kiss.

And it's true—the animals were all nuzzles and curiosity on the drizzly media morning. McClurg went so far in his praise of Snickers, who he described as an "honest camel," to say that, "If he was a human, I’d be proud to have him as a son."

The ostriches, however, were unable to join us on the concourse out of concern for their unpredictability. Brains the size of your thumbnail make it tricky to train them to do much besides run relatively straight. And although they can be ridden, at the Meadowlands, the towering flightless birds pulled brightly colored chariots which can be disengaged from their harnesses with a parachute-style quick release at speeds up to 25 mph.

Despite disparaging reports, the three ostriches seemed friendly enough back in the barn, where they shared a single stall. Their wide eyes and permanently down-turned beaks gave them an unshakable disapproving look, but they meandered unafraid towards the crowd of reporters. We were quickly told, however, not to read too much into their apparent interest in us: Handler A.J. Augusto reasoned that they must think the camera clicks were the sound of another ostrich munching some hidden, desirable food.

Check out the videos below for a taste of ostrich and camel racing and keep an eye out—they might be coming to a racetrack near you soon.

All photos courtesy of Hannah Keyser.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
Dogs Rescued After Hurricane Maria Are Available to Adopt in New York
Original image
iStock

Dozens of dogs displaced by Hurricane Maria last month are now closer to having happy endings to their stories. As Mashable reports, 53 dogs flown out of Puerto Rico by The Sato Project have been put up for adoption in shelters around the U.S., with 28 of the rescues now available through a shelter in New York City.

The new batch of dogs looking for forever homes is in addition to the 60 dogs retrieved by The Sato Project earlier this month. According to the local animal rescue group, Puerto Rico was home to about 500,000 stray dogs before the historic storm made landfall in September. The animals being shuttled from the devastated island and into the U.S. via charter plane are a mix of feral dogs, abandoned dogs, and dogs that were surrendered to local shelters by families unable to care for them post-Maria.

The Sato Project, which worked to tackle Puerto Rico's stray dog problem before the disaster, wrote that in light of the storm they would be "mobilizing to provide supplies and support to our team on the ground in Puerto Rico, and to transport as many dogs as we can to safety in the coming days and weeks."

Aspiring pet owners looking to take in a four-legged survivor will have the best luck at the no-kill shelter Animal Haven in Manhattan's Lower East Side. There, dozens of dogs who made the trip from the U.S. territory are anxiously waiting to meet their new families. And if you don't live in the New York City area, you can check out The Sato Project's list of adoptable pets around the country.

Looking for ways to help Puerto Rico that don't involve adding a new member to the family? Here are some organizations doing recovery work on the island and ways you can support them.

[h/t Mashable]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
Original image
iStock

Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios