The Tennessee roadside zoo where two men were attacked and killed by an escaped camel that was also killed has been cited with a critical U.S. Department of Agriculture violation for the incident.
The camel attack happened at Shirley Farms in Obion, which also operates under the name The Pumpkin Barn, LLC.
The USDA report indicates a male dromedary camel escaped from Shirley Farms late in the afternoon of March 10. The camel’s door was held shut by two pieces of rusty wire that were missing and the door was found to be open toward the inside of the enclosure, according to the USDA report, which the camel walked through to escape. A Shirley Farms representative told the USDA inspector that they did not know how the two pieces of wire came to be missing. One of the pieces of wire was located on the ground in a zebra enclosure.
The Obion County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) said they responded to a report that a camel had escaped from its enclosure and attacked two people. When officers arrived at Shirley Farms they found Bobby Matheny, 42, and Tommy Gunn, 67, unconscious on the ground while the camel was still loose. As authorities tried to render aid to the victims the camel attacked a police car and moved towards deputies, according to the press release. Officials shot and killed the camel.
Matheny and Gunn were both pronounced dead at 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.
The USDA report indicates the camel was in rut when it escaped through the gate. Rut is the term used for the mating season of certain animals. Several online sources indicate that camels frequently become aggressive and may attack humans or other animals while they’re in rut due to hormonal changes.
“The fencing of the enclosure used to house one male camel was not constructed and maintained in a manner appropriate to housing a male camel in rut,” the USDA inspector noted in her report.
The USDA cited Shirley Farms with a critical violation for the incident, bringing their total violations to 70 in the past seven years.
Shirley Farms was previously cited in 2014 for their unsafe camel enclosure and in 2018 for allowing the public to pet and feed the camel and other animals without an attendant present.
The USDA wrote in the most recent violation report that “outdoor housing facilities must be structurally sound and maintained in good repair to protect the animals from injury and to contain the animals.”
Shirley Farms March 2022 USDA Inspection Report: