Dubai: It was a scene right out of a wildlife documentary when a Dubai nurse out on a desert biking trip intervened in the nick of time to save the life of a newborn baby camel.
Like every other weekend, on October 9, Susan Bester, head nurse at the Mediclinic Deira Clinic, was out on a bike trip on the sand dunes, with her husband Deon when they spotted a congregation of camels. Bester, 53, a South African expatriate from Paarl, has been a nurse for three decades in South Africa and the UK. She came to Dubai in 2016, while her husband Deon is the pastor of the Dubai Afrikaans Church.
Bester recounted this striking life-saving encounter with the camels: “I think the most beautiful part about Dubai and the UAE is its long stretches of desert. I have grown up on a farm and have tended to animals and Deon and I love to bike through the dunes every weekend. This incident happened on Friday, October 9. Like always we had taken off for an early morning exploration of the desert stretch, close to the city, when we saw what I thought was a community congregation of camels. They seemed to be standing in silence in a group, looking very pensive. These camels are part of huge herd of 77 that we always encounter while cycling. We knew the herd well and it always gave us huge pleasure to see them every time we cycled there. Sometimes we have cycled alongside them or stopped to watch them,” explained Bester.
Newborn calf in distress
But this time, Bester sensed there was some trouble. “Deon and I moved closer to check and I saw a struggling baby camel. The baby was probably born in the night and was lying very still, with its mother close by. Coming closer I saw the poor baby had something like a plastic hose pipe or rope around its neck, head and back, so much so that the poor calf could not even have its mother’s milk. I could see that the mother’s udders were full and she was helplessly watching her baby struggle while the entire camel family of elders stood at a distance,” Bester recounted.
In the beginning, Bester hesitated. But her natural life-saving instincts kicked in. “In my nursing training, I had assisted in the delivery of over 50 babies and here my midwife skills were required to rescue a newborn camel.”
Newborn was covered in ‘ropes’
So Bester got off her bike, and walked closer. “I could see that the mother was watching. But I decided to sweep away that fear as that baby needed help. When I got nearer to the newborn camel, it seemed that not only the neck and mouth, but the whole body was covered with ropes. Then I realised that this was the amniotic sac which was wrapped around the baby’s body as the placenta was lying close by. Probably the mother gave birth in the early hours of dawn and being unable to help her baby, the mother was guarding the calf.”
It was a dried up amniotic sac wrapped around the newborn
“We weighed our options. We thought maybe it would be better to locate the local camel-shepherds, but the calf was in deep distress. So, I decided to take the chance to untangle the calf myself. I grew up on a farm in South Africa, so I am not afraid of animals. We were used to helping my father working with big animals on the farm. My brother is a vet and we all know our way around animals,” she said.
Would the mother attack?
“ Slowly, I moved closer to the mother and the calf. I could see that the cordlike rope was forcing the mouth of the baby open. The mouth and tongue were visibly quite dry. I was cautious about the presence of the mother, but it was clear that the mother was accepting me entering in her maternity space. I bowed my head down and start unwrapping the umbilical cord that was at this stage hardened as a rope. The mother hovered around with her head touching me on my shoulder as if telling me it was all right. The amniotic sac had dried up and I took some time, but was able to free the poor baby who immediately started struggling to stand up on its unstable legs. It kept getting up and falling down and tried to get the first life-saving sip of its mother’s milk.”
The Besters decided it was best not to wait for very long and handed over the charge to camel shepherd, who had come by on his quad bike. “The shepherd gave us blessings for this help. I could see all the elderly camels of the congregation moving closer to check on the newborn.”
Bonding with camels
Bester said she loved the desert and often came across beautiful encounters that she and her husband cherish deeply. “The encounters with animals in the desert are among the pleasures of living in Dubai. A short while ago, on another such biking trip we had the privilege of seeing a happy herd of camels feast over the tender leaves of Ghaf tree that had fallen during a huge storm. The camels, old and especially the young ones, came running towards the fallen tree with great expectation,” she recalled.
Her husband Deon added: “For Susan, this meeting with the camels every time is a like a Biblical experience as many allegorical tales in the Bible feature an encounter with camels.”