Runaway camels cause Russian mayhem

Roaming camels, Russia Image copyright Rossiya 1
Image caption The camels are not camera-shy

A pensioner from southern Russia’s Astrakhan Region has caused havoc in three local villages after releasing his 80-strong herd of camels out onto the surrounding steppe.

Residents of Oranzherei, Fyodorovka, and Ninovka say the “invasion” by 83-year-old Yuri Serebryakov’s animals has made them scared to leave their homes alone or let their children outside to play, local district head Natalya Butuzova told TASS news agency.

First they tried to gain sympathy on social media and by writing letters to the local authorities.

Now they have filed a complaint with regional prosecutors in the hope of putting a stop to the mayhem.

So far their calls for help have gone largely unanswered. Astrakhan Region prosecutor’s office confirmed that it had received a “collective appeal” from the residents, but said the information needed to be verified before any action could be taken.

‘Left without gas’

Local resident Yelena Bakhtemyeva told Interfax news agency that the camels had broken down fences while reaching out for fruit hanging from trees in gardens.

Some houses have even had their gas and water connections turned off after the camels damaged pipes by rubbing themselves on them.

Since giving birth to calves in the spring, a number of the herd have become “really aggressive“, Mrs Bakhtemyeva complained.

“If you look one directly in the eyes… the animal chases you, and you have to run away.”

The villagers’ plight has even made it onto state TV’s primetime evening news slot.

Image copyright Rossiya 1
Image caption The camels have made the TV news

Fyodorovka resident Valentina Malikova told Rossiya 1 TV that she spent most evenings chasing them away from her pear trees, adding, “at night we get up and keep guard”.

Initially “there were about seven of them walking around, then those disappeared. But now there are at least 57 here, and I don’t know when it will stop.”

Other locals have spotted them “vandalising gravestones” in a local cemetery, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

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Despite having kept camels for 25 years, Mr Serebryakov says he recently decided to let his herd roam free after realising his age prevented him from taking care of them.

He has shunned all responsibility for their antics, claiming that he is not to blame for the surrounding villages’ abundance of camelthorns, their favourite food.

‘Fences not erected properly’

Neither are the creatures themselves at fault for the damaged fences and gas mains, according to their owner.

The gas pipes should not have been built so close to the ground, and his neighbours’ fences are not sturdy enough, he argues.

“The fence needs to be put up properly,” he told Rossiya 1 when shown the damage caused to one of his neighbours’ property.

While the pensioner hopes to sell them, some have suggested he should hand them over to a zoo for free.

“No, I won’t give them away. It’s too late for that,” he said.

District official Alexander Popov told Rossiya 1 that Mr Serebryakov had been handed six separate fines this year amounting to $164 (£125). So far he has ignored all of them.

Image copyright Rossyia 1
Image caption Yuri Serebryakov wants $890 for each of his camels

Reporting by Francis Scarr

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