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Meet Obadiah, the camel who stars in Christmas parade on Green Street
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Shannon, a Nativity scene actress, stands with Obadiah, a dromedary camel, at a display in 2016. Obadiah is part of the North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland and will be participating in Christmas on Green Street on Sunday. Photo courtesy of the North Georgia Zoo.
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Obadiah, a dromedary camel owned by North Georgia Zoo, stands in his enclosure during winter in Cleveland. Obadiah and zoo Director Hope Bennett will be participating in Christmas on Green Street on Sunday. Photo courtesy of the North Georgia Zoo. - photo by Nick Bowman

Obadiah, a trained actor who craves the spotlight, has been performing in live Nativities for years and will bring his talent to Gainesville this Christmas season.

He went to school in North Georgia for years, honing his craft of recreating the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. There will be no missing that craft when he performs for Christmas on Green Street on Sunday.

He’s also hard to miss because he’s a half-ton camel.

Christmas on Green Street

What: Parade, open houses at businesses, live music

When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3

Where: Green Street, Gainesville

How much: Free

Obadiah is one of five camels living at the North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland, according to Director Hope Bennett. Bred in captivity, Obadiah came to the facility in 2005 as a 6-month-old calf from another facility.

He’s a dromedary camel — meaning he only has one hump, while the Bactrian has two — and is now 12 years old.

He lives on a diet of grass and grain, and just like many dogs and other species of animal he has summer and winter coats (and sheds like a monster in springtime, requiring a heavy amount of brushing and growing).

Obadiah’s a bit of a heavy drinker, and can down some 30 gallons of water in a single sitting. He’ll live between 40 and 50 years — that’s a lot of Nativities and plenty of time for Obadiah to continue his work as an ambassador for his species at the zoo.

“We have some camels that get more rambunctious, other camels that are more laid-back,” Bennett said. “Obadiah has always been more laid-back and inquisitive about people.”

He took to training like a “puppy dog,” she said, and knows how to lay down, crawl and come when called. He responds to affection and, like any mammal, has likes and dislikes — and can even become pouty.

Obadiah is “not just an animal — it can respond to you. It can connect with you, and it can have moods,” Bennett said.

But if you’re wondering, Obadiah has never spit at anyone, the classic, cliched habit of the unfriendly camel.

There’s no reason for the head-high camel to be unfriendly this time of year, Bennett said.

“This is their role; this is their season. Nativity December is their favorite month because all of the camels get to go out and help bring reason to the season and help bring the season alive,” she said.

He’s a frequent performer at Nativities for Sardis Baptist Church, Burnt Hickory Baptist Church and Peachtree Presbyterian in Roswell.

Of all of Obadiah’s public events, his role at Christmas events can have some of the greatest effects on people. Christians around the nation and world will, or already have, put up their Nativity scenes recreating the birth of Jesus in wood, plastic and paper.

Bennett said bringing the scene to life, not just with people but with creatures like Obadiah, helps reinvigorate the moment.

“It’s an opportunity to help people remember it’s not about the commercialism, it’s not about giving gifts,” she said. “It’s about giving and experiencing baby Jesus.”

Sunday, Bennett will serve as Obadiah’s handler in Gainesville, where they’ll walk the Christmas parade and then spend some time at Christmas on Green Street.

He’s well-suited to the job, she said, after being trained from a young age to enjoy the company of people. Now, the 1,200-pound pack animal thrives on the performances.

“He’s great with public events,” said Melissa Burns, assistant director of the zoo. “He’s been traveling and going to Nativities most of his life. Out of all of our camels, he’s the attention hound. He loves it when people are petting him and seeing him.”