Once upon a time down on Riverside Parkway hundreds of acres were given over to what could be described as the “wild kingdom” belonging to Harold “Red” Palmer. Covering several hundred acres Palmer keep a large menagerie of exotic animals including guanaco, deer, antelope, cattle, horses, hogs, goats, and various types of fowl. Many today also remember Lulu, the cigar-smoking orangutan; Bill, the lion; and Donna, the elephant.
These animals were kept for study in relation to Palmer’s business — Palmer Chemical and Equipment Co., Inc. — which produced a variety of equipment used around the world in livestock treatment, rabies control, wildlife management, and treatment of zoo animals. The star of Palmer’s inventory was the “Cap-Chur” Tranquilizer gun which fired a syringe-like cartridge that injected an “immobilizing drug” into an animal, allowing safe capture for various purposes.
In September 1963, Palmer was one of eleven people who traveled to Cambodia with Dr. Charles H. Wharton of Georgia State University. Wharton was an expert regarding the Kouprey, a breed of cattle that inhabited Cambodia and was rapidly becoming extinct. The Kouprey, the oldest living breed of cattle on earth, is an ox-like animal reaching five feet tall and weighing as much as one ton each. They were believed to be immune to virtually all diseases and were able to survive the tortuous Cambodian climate of alternate months of monsoon rains and drought making them the “toughest cattle on earth.” It was hoped that if they could be saved, the Kouprey could be bred with domestic cattle.
The expedition, sponsored by the National Academy of Science and Pacific Science Board in cooperation with the Cambodian government, would be the very first major effort of its kind to save a species of animal from extinction by establishing survival herds in another country.
There would be problems, of course. The Kouprey weren’t as docile like domestic cattle but were wild as deer and so elusive they earned the nickname “ghost animals.” Hunters generally tracked them using jeeps, elephants, and motorcycles.
Another problem would be the possibility of crossing paths with bands of Vietnamese Communists that were roaming sections of Cambodian jungles in 1963, and though Dr. Wharton had allowed a detachment of 70 Cambodian soldiers to escort an earlier expedition, there were no plans for a repeat in 1963 as Dr. Wharton felt by that time the American military had pinned down the Communists.
During the expedition five Kouprey were captured due to the use of Red Palmer’s tranquilizer gun, but all were eventually lost. Two died and three escaped. Today there are thought to be few, if any, Kouprey left. The last confirmed sighting was 1983. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated the species as “critically endangered”, but it may already be extinct.
Another animal that Red Palmer worked with in 1963 regarding conservation were the bulls used for bullfighting in Spain. Many of the high-strung and dangerous animals were injured during medical treatments or during travel. Many times, the bulls’ horns were broken in the process. It was hoped that Palmer’s tranquilizer gun would help, so in December 1963, he was slated to teach veterinarians at Spain’s Cordoba University how to shoot bulls with his “Cap Chur” tranquilizer gun. The syringe needles would carry vaccine, medicine, or a tranquilizing drug to put the high-strung fighting bulls to sleep so they could be treated for injuries or ailments or moved from one ring to another.
Following his time at Cordoba University, Palmer also traveled to Kenya, South Africa, West Pakistan, and Australia to train wildlife personnel and veterinarians with the “Cap-Chur” method. He oversaw the treatment of dozens of wild cattle, water buffalo, elephants, rhinoceros, lions and other beasts.
Palmer would return to Douglasville in the Spring of 1964, so this is just a recap of a few months in Palmer’s life regarding his adventures. There were many more. Due to his local, state, national, and international achievements Palmer was inducted into the Douglas County Hall of Fame several years ago by the Douglas County History and Tourism Commission of which I am a proud member. Be sure to visit the Douglas County Museum of History and Art where photos of Red Palmer are on display in the Hall of Fame exhibit along with one of his “Cap-Chur” tranquilizer guns.
This column ran in the Douglas County Sentinel in November of 2018. Lisa’s books “Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County, Volume 1,” “Douglasville,” a pictorial history, and “Georgia on My Mind: True Tales from Around the State”, are available at Amazon and The Farmers Table, Douglasville Welcome Center, and the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.