Being an animal whisperer is not magic. It is a combination of common sense and tapping into an energy or even spiritual connection in line with animals. Gil and Nancy Riegler, the owners of Oasis Dairy Camel Farm in Ramona are more than just trainers, they are animal whisperers. The Rieglers have had a special bond with animals since they were young, and it has grown over their many years of working and learning about them. They also have a special bond with each other, and visiting them on their farm, one can see the love they share with their menagerie.
Gil Riegler, 53, was born in Canada, but moved to Israel at the age of four. He lived in Kfar Gibton, a little moshav right next to Rehovot on a farm where animals were his best friends. He even had a pet crow that followed him around. He took refuge there as he always felt different from others. Indeed, he has had an unusual life.
After completing military service in Israel, he moved back to Canada to pursue a career in music. Canada proved to be too cold for his taste, so he hitchhiked from Canada to California and ended up in Los Gatos, and later Santa Cruz. It was there – not in Israel, shockingly enough – that he met and bonded with his first camel. He later went on to purchase four baby camels in Yuma, which he brought back to his home and boarded.
This started his 25-year relationship with these special beings, and he has grown to understand them well. He learned early on that camels, when forced to work, will spit, just as the pyramid camels in Egypt do. When camels are treated humanely, they do not.
He supported himself through various jobs, including cutting quartz crystal. He also spent many years volunteering at a special facility for handicapped people where the therapy included interacting with exotic animals. Gil helped to train those animals. Every year, Gil and the owner would go to a fair in San Jose to see a bird show and this is where Gil met his wife, Nancy.
Nancy Riegler was born in Su Tujanga, a town north of Pasadena, Calif. She knew from an early age that she wanted to work with animals. In middle school, a counselor advised her to go Moorpark Community College and apply to a program called Exotic Animal Training and Management (ETEAM). Nancy was one of 35 people accepted into the program. The training she received there was invaluable.
One day, she was recruited for a summer bird show with parrots, called Cheep Thrills Exotic Bird Show, a Peep Show Rated “G”. The owner trained Nancy to work with the birds and it was a grueling schedule. However, Nancy is grateful for this experience, as she says it really taught her how to entertain and how to work with these highly-intelligent birds. Nancy learned compassionate ways to teach the birds, and to communicate with them.
She next started working for the Wild Life Workshop at the Wild Animal Park in its early days. It was there that she discovered that, as much as she loved working with animals, it also gave her great joy to connect people with animals. She worked for both the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park for six years. However, their policy was that if you changed departments, you could not bring the animals with you, even if you had bonded with them. This made her realize she wanted to start her own show.
She began her own small bird act and she went to schools, libraries and parties while she continued to build her act and menagerie. She became more well known and traveled around the state, eventually ending up at the San Jose Fair, where she met Gil.
Perhaps it was beshert (destined) that Nancy and Gil would meet each other at a county fair and, attracted to each other’s gentle, intuitive natures eventually fall in love. They have been together for 17 years [married for 12] and it is obvious how well suited they are. They really enjoy their life together.
A new chapter began for them soon after meeting. Nancy’s home base was in Ramona, so Gil moved from Santa Cruz to join her. He brought his four baby camels and purchased six more as he decided to milk and breed them. Everything fell into place as they bought their present property of 34 acres, a place they felt they were destined to be. The Oasis Dairy Camel Farm was born.
In 2005, Huell Howser came to visit as part of his television show, and helped to put the farm on the map. More and more people came to experience the farm after the TV show aired. The farm now has 24 camels, 10 birds [8 in their special show], 27 turkeys, 10 chickens, 2 mini donkeys, 6 mini sheep, 3 horses, 12 koi fish, 2 cats and 3 dogs.
Gil enjoys giving the public an opportunity to get up close and personal with his camels by welcoming groups to his farm to see how he trains them. Oasis Dairy Camel Farm holds public tours once a month, except in the summer when they attend various fairs, including the San Diego County Fair. The next public tours will be offered on August 27 and 28th from 1 to 4 p.m. Camels N Apples Days takes place on the farm in October and Pomegranate Days takes place in November. Registration is recommended. Prices are $10 for adults and $10 for a camel ride. Children can ride for $5.
The public tour also includes a bird show, where Nancy shows off her talented and charismatic birds as they perform together. She is also an expert horse woman and her latest acquisition is a paint horse named Tiger Lili.
Gil and Nancy feel it is important to introduce people to their partnership with these animals, and they do outreach programs to educate people about camels. Gil also explains the many benefits of camel milk, and the fact that they originated in America millions of years ago. They hope to start having more public tours, hands on clinic series, and overnight options down the road. Finally, they sell various products made from camel milk, such as soaps, lotions, and lip treatments that they make in their kitchen. For more information, visit www.cameldairy.com.
Mimi Pollack is an ESL teacher at Grossmont College and a freelance writer.