MY STORY | How I started farming camels in KwaZulu-Natal

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Dirk Adendorff with his fiancée, Yolandi van den Berg. Dirk owns Fun Farm where he houses 35 camels. (PHOTO: supplied)
Dirk Adendorff with his fiancée, Yolandi van den Berg. Dirk owns Fun Farm where he houses 35 camels. (PHOTO: supplied)

Dick Adendorff (54) of Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal has owned camels for a quarter of a century and finds them fascinating, hardworking and adaptable.

This is his story. 

“Sometime in 1997 I read a newspaper article about camels in Kommetjie near Cape Town that had come from the Kalahari. 

Fun Farm, the business we run in KZN, had been operational for a few years – schoolchildren come here to ride horses, swim and play and I thought the camels would be a good addition to the farm. 

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I’d done my research on camels and knew how to train and handle them, so I contacted a farmer and bought two – Mellow Yellow and Kalahari. They were delivered in a truck. 

I trained my first camels myself and I fell off a few times in the process too. Once they were tame, I started letting other people ride them. 

After Mellow Yellow and Kalahari, I got hold of a few cows and a year or two later, the first calves were born here on the farm.   

camels, South Africa, KZN, farmer
Dirk bought his first two camels in 1997 and currently has 35. (PHOTO: supplied)

I have 35 camels at the moment. In the whole of SA there are probably about 400, but no one knows exactly. You think of them as desert animals, but they’ve adapted well to KZN’s weather. 

Camels are incredibly patient. They like routine, and the more they’re handled and the kinder you are when you work with them, the tamer they get. 

I train our camels myself. I use techniques I’ve learnt over the years, so these days it takes about a month to train one. 

Most of the camel rides are here on the farm but before the pandemic, we attended many agricultural shows and festivals. A camel ride is a fun experience and everyone reacts differently to it.

I had one camel called Sampie. He was naughty and never missed a trick. At the shows, he would sneak up on someone from behind and grab their cooldrink, chips, candy floss or whatever. 

camels, South Africa, KZN, farmer
One of his cows with her calf. (PHOTO: supplied)

I used to pretend not to see anything. Sampie appeared at many shows and festivals and he could finish a bottle of cooldrink in six seconds. Few people could beat him. 

Camels aren’t shy of the camera either and love having their picture taken with people. In June this year, I took two of my camels to Gauteng where they featured in a local movie shot at Hartbeespoort Dam. And in 2016 they were in scenes for the international mini-series Roots, parts of which were shot here in KZN. 

My camels are also popular for use at events such as matric balls and weddings. I also have a collection of about 24 antique carriages – some are in regular use, while some are on display in the Fun Farm museum. Whenever I come across an old wagon or carriage, I’ll buy it and restore it myself and sometimes I’ll use a camel to draw a carriage. 

camels, South Africa, KZN, farmer
Some of Dirk’s antique wagons are popular for use at weddings. (PHOTO: supplied)

They’re sometimes used as pack animals on the farm too. For example, we’ll use them to take salt licks up to the mountains for our commercial cattle farming enterprise – we farm with Bonsmara and Nguni. A camel can easily carry a load of more than 200kg. 

I love sharing statistics and facts about camels and people are fascinated by them.

For instance, a camel has three eyelids – one eyelid is transparent and keeps dust and sand out of the eye. And they have such long legs to keep their body as far away from the hot desert sand as possible. 

Camels can go for days without water and when they do reach a water source, they can easily drink up to 100 litres at a time. Camels have very tough skins with bristly hair to protect them from sandstorms in the desert. 

camels, South Africa, KZN, farmer
Camels are sought after for a number of occasions, including matric balls. (PHOTO: supplied)

Something strange happened about six years ago when staff of one of Saudi Arabia’s royal families contacted a camel farmer from the Northern Cape about buying 20 camels from him.

These camels were brought by truck to Johannesburg, and it was my job, along with a single helper, to get the animals to the airport and into their crates. It wasn’t easy because none of them were tame.

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I recall the stickers on the crates indicating which camel was going to which prince. There were these incredibly long names on the stickers, like this prince of that and that, and that prince of this, and so on. 

So as we were loading the camels, I thought to myself, ‘If we can sell camels to people from a desert country, we can probably sell ice to Eskimos too’.” 

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