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Facility where two men were killed by a camel was previously cited for unsafe camel enclosure

A camel named Rusty reaches over a fence at Shirley Farms. Photo credit: Facebook/Pumpkin Barn LLC.

The Tennessee roadside zoo where two men were attacked and killed by a camel that had escaped from its enclosure was previously cited for their unsafe camel enclosure.

The incident happened at Shirley Farms in Obion around 5 p.m. March 10, according to the Obion County Sheriff’s Office. In a press release, the Sheriff’s Office said they received a report that a camel had escaped from its enclosure at Shirley Farms and had attacked two people.

When officers arrived at Shirley Farms they found Bobby Matheny, 42, and Tommy Gunn, 67, unconscious on the ground while a dromedary camel was still loose. While authorities tried to render aid to the victims the camel attacked a police car and moved toward deputies, according to the press release. Officials shot and killed the camel.

Matheny and Gunn were both pronounced dead on the scene. It is unclear whether they were employees or volunteers of Shirley Farms or if they were bystanders attempting to corral the loose animal.

Shirley Farms also operates under the name Pumpkin Barn LLC. The facility has been cited with 69 violations of the Animal Welfare Act in the past seven years, including violations related to their camel enclosure.

In one previous U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report in 2014, Shirley Farms was cited with a repeat violation for their camel fence which the USDA noted “does not appear to be either high enough or strong enough to keep the camels in the enclosure if they wish to test the fence.”

The inspector wrote in her report that she witnessed a camel pushing against the wires and leaning over the fence to eat grass on the other side.

The same USDA inspection report indicates that Shirley Farms had obtained a variance for their camel enclosure so that the animals would not be required to be enclosed by a secondary perimeter fence.

The USDA inspection report indicates that Shirley Farms was notified that their enclosures must be structurally sound to protect the animals from injury and to contain the animals.

At a USDA inspection in 2018, Shirley Farms was cited for letting the public pet and feed the camels and other animals without an attendant present.

2021 Facebook photo taken at Shirley Farms.

The inspector wrote that there is no barrier present between any of the animals and the public.

Had Shirley Farms not obtained a variance from the USDA, they would have been required to install a secondary perimeter fence that likely would have contained the camel that escaped last Thursday.

The Tennessee nonprofit For Fox Sake Wildlife Rescue posted a statement about the Shirley Farms camel attack incident on social media, emphasizing the risks to both the public and the animals at roadside zoos.

“Please, if you have fear of being hurt by animals, use that fear constructively to help end the era of roadside zoos and for-profit exotic animals collections,” For Fox Sake wrote. “You can actually help improve public safety and the welfare of animals by boycotting these establishments and pushing for stricter enforcement of existing state and federal laws.”


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