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Camels and The Nativity

Now at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch sanctuary, Omar escaped a life of sideshows and Nativity pageants

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • Omar, up close at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. Diane Miller/The HSUS

  • Omar lives peacefully, an elephant his best friend. Diane Miller/The HSUS

  • Omar was destined for the Christmas pageant circuit. Diane Miller/The HSUS

During the Advent season, many Christian churches around the country hold live Nativity shows to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Unlike at the original event, today's camels and other animals used to reenact the live Nativity fuel an industry putting animals at risk.

Meet Omar

Born to an exotic animal dealer, Omar was destined for a life of parades, Nativity scenes and pageants. He now lives a quiet life on the 1,300-acre Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.

The sanctuary, operated by The Humane Society of the United States in partnership with The Fund for Animals, is home to more than 1,200 domestic and exotic animals. Many of those animals were discarded from circuses and roadside zoos, others were victims of the exotic pet trade. Read Omar’s story.

Do you see what we see?

While camels have long been used as working animals, now they are caught up in the world of the global exotics and wildlife trade.

If your congregation is planning a live Nativity event, consider the following: 

  • Camels and other animals rented for Nativity events often come from exotic animal dealers, farms, ranches, and even Internet sites.
  • Ruminants, including goats and sheep, can carry E. coli. Because of this risk, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggests that young children be restricted from petting zoos.
  • Camels are often sold through exotic animal auctions, where they may end up spending their lives in a substandard roadside zoo or as part of a traveling carnival sideshow.
  • Safety with camels at events is a concern: in 2007, a Florida woman was killed when her 1,800 pound camel, purchased a few weeks before at an exotic animal auction, sat on her.

What you can do

Instead of renting a camel, consider an alternative

Some churches use puppets and other stand-ins for live animals. You can also:

1. Donate the $500-$700 rental fee towards a purchase of pet food for your local food bank. 
2. Support your local animal shelter, where homeless animals wait to be adopted into permanent, loving families. 
3. Make a donation to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch for Omar and other displaced animals.

Planning to use animals for a live Nativity?

The following steps will help ensure your congregation's money isn't contributing to animal suffering.

1. Ask the business providing the animals to provide its USDA license number.
2. Call the USDA to verify the company's license.
3. Check the facility's inspection reports on the USDA Web site
4. If you can, visit the place where the animals live.


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