Camel back home after spending hour wandering town

YELM, Wash. (AP) - A camel named Hugo is back in his pen at a residence near Yelm after wandering away and having Thurston County deputies look for him.

The 6-year-old dromedary was found after an hour and led home by his keeper, Sean Sage.

Sage and his wife Stephanie take care of Hugo and another camel named Picasso.

"I was bringing some hay out and I was like, Hugo's not in the pen and the gate's open," said Sean Sage.

Camels have very dexterous mouths and the latch was no match.

"There's a thing you have to twist and pull up and he figured out how to do it with his lips, there," Sage said.

The animals are owned by Camels Unlimited, which leases them for appearances or zoo rides. Worried, the Sage's called the sheriff's office.

"My camel's gotten out, if you get any reports, let me know, I'll come pick him up," Sage said of the call to police. "He said, 'We just got a report about 20 minutes ago.' "

Neighbor Dave Lott held a cup of coffee in one hand, and had dialed 911 with the other as he spotted Hugo.

"I stood out on the porch, I'm looking -- that's a camel," Lott said.

Hugo, it seems, was looking for more than just freedom. His handlers say he was looking for another camel.

"He was missing Picasso," Sage said.

Picasso is another show animal, now giving rides at Jim's U-Fish out in Spanaway. Until recently, Picasso and Hugo lived together in the same coral.

"If you just separate them, he's gonna be looking for a way out," Sage said. "That's what Hugo was doing."

And while Hugo only made it about a half-mile on his presumed journey to find Picasso, it's a heart-warming example of friendship in the animal world.

"They're just looking for, like their friend, the person they've been around for a long time," Sage said. "They're very social animals, they love being together."

While the handlers say the camels get used to single life fairly quickly, Hugo and Picasso will be back together later this year.