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Rural Confidential: The Mona Story

Mona the camel ... San Juan Vineyards has named a wine in her honor, Mona Vino.    - Madison Leiren
Mona the camel ... San Juan Vineyards has named a wine in her honor, Mona Vino.
— image credit: Madison Leiren

By Paula Sundstrom

Driving out Roche Harbor Road, you pass many wonderful scenes — seasonal wetlands, hayfields and pastures, San Juan Vineyards with the old No. 22 Schoolhouse now converted to a wine-tasting room, and across the road … Is that a camel? What’s she doing here?

Yes, that’s Mona, our camel. There are many rumors about how she came to be here. Was she bought on eBay? Did she come from a petting zoo? Was she an animal rescue? Most of the stories that are told about Mona are false and it’s time the truth be told.

J. Ward Phillips, Roche Harbor Skyways, is the original owner and raised her from a baby. Ward bought Mona through a Spokane breeder who brought her out from Missouri and delivered her to him on Whidbey Island. Ward had created an exotic animal farm with more than 45 animals and she was part of that collection. Mona was only six months old at the time and still needed to be bottle-fed for another three months — with a very big bottle.

“Her real name is Moanie and she got that name because she always followed me around the fields on Whidbey Island when I was raising her and she would make this moaning sound when I would leave," he said. "Camels bond very strong with whoever raises them. They’re very tender animals; she loves to kiss. She would run alongside me on my four-wheeler in the field; she can do 30 mph. I had her for four to five years, from a baby of six months. Smartest animal I’ve ever owned — way smarter than a horse, way smarter.”

The trouble began when Ward moved to Canada for a couple of years, coming home only once every two months. Mona missed him and started to act up in protest.

“Among other tricks, she decided to dismantle her barn and during that time she was literally taking a building apart with her lips. She does not like being alone at all.”

Ward realized it was time to find a new home for Mona. The man he bought her from suggested he contact a woman in Mill Creek who was an exotic animal dealer. She agreed to take Mona; however, when she became too much for her to take care of she advertised her in the Little Nickel classifieds. Ward said he would have taken Mona back had he known she was going to be sold.

“I still have my Roche Harbor hangar and so I stop by once in a while and say hi.”

Steve King saw the ad in the Little Nickel and told his wife Corina about it. The next day she got on the phone, and two to three days later had the camel delivered. Corina had great affection for camels, having spent three years working in Egypt doing documentaries. Steve had his own fascination ever since seeing a camel in a petting zoo when he was a little boy. The two often exchanged camel-themed gifts. They purchased Mona in 2005 and think she’s now 7.

Camels live to be 50-55, so Mona could be a fixture here for many years to come.

Where’s the white horse?

Chappy, the white horse (no, her name is not Lisa), was Mona’s pasture mate for two to three years, and unfortunately now lives down the road on the corner by Halversen Road. Mona has been lonely without Chappy, the 24-year-old Appaloosa mare, but according to Steve King she just might have a couple of llamas kicking around with her soon.

Mona’s fame and popularity has spread, and San Juan Vineyards has named a wine in her honor, Mona Vino. Sold only in the tasting room, Mona Vino became available again this July as a cabernet and merlot blend.

— This article was originally published in the Roche Harbor Neighborhood Association newsletter. Sundstrom is the newsletter's editor.

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