Oliver “Ollie” the camel, for years an unlikely Route 7 celebrity and Vermont’s resident two-humped treasure, died on the evening of Feb. 21 at his farm in Ferrisburgh, Vt. He was 17 years old.
Ollie, a seven-foot-tall, 1,500-lb Bactrian camel often described as a “ham for the camera,” prompted countless roadside double-takes as he meandered around the pastures at Round Barn Merinos farm. Passersby and locals alike frequented Ollie’s fence, where he was known to mosey away from the sheep herds to nuzzle cheek-to-cheek for pictures and snacks.
“He wants people to acknowledge him and he’ll run and play for attention,” Round Barn Merinos farm owner Judith Giusto told The Campus in 2010. “People stop all the time.”
Ollie had been feeling under the weather in the week preceding his death, according to his Facebook page, though the ultimate cause of his passing was not reported. The online announcement was met with a deluge of love for the camel, with hundreds of comments and photos pouring in from his wide-spread admirers.
North Chittenden resident Kirsten Bouchard shared that, after her daughter was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of two, she began driving up Route 7 to Burlington every three months for doctor’s appointments.
“In the beginning these trips were hard — but the highlight was to look for Oliver — and if he was there in the field it was a little celebration,” wrote Bouchard, whose daughter is now 17. “We will still think of him every time we drive by. He is etched in our lives!”
Brandon, Vt. resident Louise Marrier expressed her sorrow in a statement to The Campus, describing her whole family’s adoration for Ollie. “When we got to the ‘spot’ we would look to see if the camel was out. It was just so unique to see a camel in Vermont,” said Marrier, whose children are now grown. “My husband and I would still look for Ollie. The drive will not be the same.”
Giusto, a shepherd and fiber artist, adopted Ollie from Wisconsin in 2002 when he was just a few months old. She raised Ollie among the farm’s herds of Merino sheep and alpacas, the unlikely bunch grazing together for nearly two decades. Although Giusto adopted the camel partly for the novelty of it, she also incorporated his hair and down into her knitwear which was sold at stores and galleries across Vermont.
“I cannot keep his fiber in stock,” Giusto told the Addison Independent in a profile of Ollie in 2017. “People eat it up. They come in all the time and ask me if I have anything from the camel.”
Although the New England countryside may not have seemed a likely habitat for Ollie, whose species of camel is native to the Gobi Desert in Eastern Asia, his down coat was well-equipped for the Vermont winters. Ollie always looked at home among the sheep in his pasture, a contentment he passed along to his devotees.
“I will miss you terribly,” wrote Middlebury resident Scott Bourne on Facebook. “I commuted up and down [Route] 7 for MANY years and you were ALWAYS the bright spot of my drive. I know there are hundreds of people who feel the same!”
Middlebury students are also heavy-hearted at the news of Ollie’s passing.
“He meant everything to me, really,” said MacLean Kirk ’21. “The amount of joy that I got out of seeing a fuzzy little camel on the side of the road — I mean, why else would I drive up Route 7?”
It wasn’t hard to notice Ollie’s popularity over the years, but Giusto has been stunned by the love and support that Ollie has received in his passing. “I now realize he is bigger than I ever thought he was,” she told the Associated Press.
Although Ollie is already dearly missed among his countless friends, his signature humps will live on in memory among the curves of the Green Mountain hills.