Cyndi Brast/Contributed photo
                                Mona lived on San Juan for more than a decade.

Cyndi Brast/Contributed photo Mona lived on San Juan for more than a decade.

Remembering Mona the camel

Island celebrity Mona the camel was an unusual sight — a desert creature on a Pacific Northwest island. Mona died recently, at the young age of 14.

“She was loved too much,” Steve King, Mona’s former owner said. In fact, he laughed, people often asked about her before they asked about him.

Concerned about Mona’s overall diet and general happiness, King gave her to a company in Tacoma, Washington, in February of 2018, where she would be around other camels and have caretakers closely monitor her diet.

King received a call around mid-September from the man who transported her to Tacoma, letting him know Mona had passed away. Her cause of death, King said was apparently due to renal, or kidney, failure.

“Mona loved food and she loved meeting new people,” King said, noting that she was extremely bright, and primarily motivated by food.

He fears all the snacks the public fed her may have caught up with her and caused the renal failure, and that she also may have been diabetic. According to King, camels in captivity can live up to 50 years old.

The man who transported Mona to her new home said she was the fattest camel he had ever seen, King said, weighing approximately 1,800 pounds. A healthier weight would have been between 1,200-1,300 pounds, he added.

Renal failure, King explained, is also common in female camels.

King became fascinated with camels after traveling to Egypt. Mona herself was American born, originally from a farm in Arkansas. As a baby, she was bought by a Whidbey Island man named Ward Philips. By the time she was 2-years-old, King had bought her and brought her to his farm on San Juan Island. Community members fell instantly in love with her. A Facebook page was even created in her name.

“She was an amazingly intelligent animal,” King said.

Once, when he had been working on an irrigation system, she figured out how to take the pipes apart and would wander around her meadow holding some 30-foot sections in her mouth as if they were a cigar, he said with a laugh, or hold them in the crook of her neck and prance around.

Mona also figured out how to open doors, King said. He would be working in his shop, and suddenly Mona would be right there beside him. She was able to get into his house as well, King explained, noting that he would be going about his day and suddenly there she would be.

She also remembered those dear to her. King said four years after he bought her, Philips came to visit.

“She clearly knew who he was, and she was so excited to see him,” King said. “Knowing that I never visited her in her new home, because I didn’t want to upset her, I wanted to give her time to settle in.”

King continues to be intrigued by camels, he added, but Mona will be his first and last.

“She was a big lovable galoot,” King said.