When a ranch hand noticed in June that Sybil, a 7-year-old camel who lives on the McMurry family’s ranch in Jasper, was limping, it wasn’t immediately clear what the problem was.
“We thought that maybe she had twisted her ankle,” owner Joanna McMurry said. “Our [local] veterinarian did an X-ray of the ankle, but they don’t have the same equipment that the vets at Texas A&M do.”
So Joanna and Ron McMurry loaded Sybil into a trailer and drove her to College Station, where staff at the Texas A&M University’s Large Animal Hospital were able to perform a larger X-ray on the camel’s back half.
The results weren’t good.
Sybil’s hip joint had become dislocated from her pelvis, which can be a death sentence for animals as large as she is. But thanks to the work of a team of veterinary professionals and students with Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Sybil — and her unborn calf — have been given a second chance at life.
After Sybil’s X-ray at Texas A&M, the most immediate concern that plagued Sybil’s family and the veterinary team was that she would require euthanasia.
“We were very worried, and I spoke to a bunch of surgeons for a bit of advice while preparing for surgery,” said LAH surgeon and assistant professor Kati Glass. “Those people were very doubtful. ... The challenge is the force it takes to get the [hip] back into socket with muscles so big, and then keeping that hip in the socket.”
Despite the odds and the high stakes, the veterinary team was able to accomplish what seemed so improbable. They popped the giant bone into place, then secured it with screws, a steel cable and some strong stitching in the muscle tissue. Though the cable did break after surgery, the reassembly of Sybil’s hip proved successful.
Glass noted that the veterinary staff loved working with Sybil. Although they do treat several camels each year, Sybil’s story is unique due to her injury. Though nations where camels are more common likely see more cases of camel hip displacement, in Texas such an encounter for a veterinarian is rare. The triumph was a cause for celebration, and the team threw Sybil a baby shower during her College Station stay.
Glass said Sybil’s case will be used as an educational tool for Texas A&M students.
More than two months after her June 20 admittance, Sybil was able to return home early this week to Jasper. Her unborn calf is still alive, and Sybil is standing on her own four hooves now. Sybil has been confined to a stall until her leg is healed enough for her to walk in a larger pen, and eventually again in her pasture. Her new baby is expected to be born in April or May.
The McMurrys purchased Sybil and her sister, Nadia, as babies from a camel rancher in Oklahoma and have been raising the two on their 90-acre farm, which also has horses, donkeys and a few zebras.
“We’ve bonded with her,” Joanna McMurry said. “All of our kids are grown, and we have 14 grandkids. I have a dog who is my best friend — these animals are like our kids. We will do anything we can to help them if there’s hope.”