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Two killed by camel at west Tennessee petting zoo

Shirley Farms
The Pumpkin Barn LLC Facebook Page
An attack by a loose camel at Shirley Farms in Obion, Tennessee, killed two men Thursday. A 2021 post by the farm shows a camel living on the grounds. Other posts include images of a second camel. It could not be confirmed if this is the camel described in a police release.

This story has been updated with a statement from PETA.

A tragic incident at an Obion County, Tennessee, petting zoo claimed the lives of two men Thursday.

The Obion County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of a loose camel attacking people near Shirley Farms around 4:44 p.m. Central Time, according to a release posted on social media Friday morning.

When authorities arrived on South Bluff Road near the town of Obion, they found a pair of unconscious victims on the ground with the animal still on the loose at the farm. The Obion sheriff’s office was joined on the scene by the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Ridgely Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Lake County Rescue Squad. Each agency made attempts to render aid and get the victims to safety.

According to the release, the camel attacked an Obion County Sheriff's Office vehicle before moving toward deputies who were attempting to get a victim emergency medical attention.

Officers then, according to the release, “put down” the camel for the safety of the victims and other people on scene.

The two victims, 42-year-old Bobby Matheny of Ridgely, Tennessee, and 67-year-old Tommy Gunn, of Obion, Tennessee, succumbed to their injuries and were pronounced dead on scene.

The variety of camel involved in the attack was not verified. Roughly 90% of the world’s camels are dromedary, or Arabian camels, according to The single-humped mammals can stand around 6.6 feet tall at shoulder height and can weigh as much as 1,320 pounds. A 2020 paper on file with the National Library of Medicine says deaths associated with camels often “involve kicking, stomping, kneeling or sitting on a victim, or biting and shaking and throwing." A cause of death in this case has not yet been confirmed.

When reached for comment, a Shirley Farms representative said they were grieving.

Shirley Farms, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports supplied by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has incurred multiple inspection violations since 2017.

"Shirley Farms has a history of failing to have employees supervise interactions with camels, among many other citations for violating federal law, so this incident is tragic yet unsurprising," PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Debbie Metzler said in an emailed statement to WKMS. "Injuries abound when animals are exploited for entertainment, and PETA urges everyone to avoid sleazy roadside attractions as if lives depended on it—because they do."

These reports include a variety of different violations, including inadequate enclosures for rabbits; unsanitary enclosures for primates; poor water access for camels and zebras; insufficient record keeping for animal acquisition, veterinary visits and enrichment plans; customers interacting with animals without proper employee supervision; a lack of shade in animal enclosures; and animals lacking in veterinary care.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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