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Why Llamas As Pets? They’re Good With Kids - And They Hum

April 24, 1986

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. (AP) _ Llamas, those sturdy animals prized in South America for their wool and ability to carry heavy loads on Andean trails, make great pets, breeders say - if you don’t mind the hum.

″They have a charming hum,″ said Helen Bodington, who owns a 350-pound llama named Canelo. ″It comes at different times that indicate different attitudes. Mine has a freeway hum.″

When Bodington drives her van on the freeways of Northern California, Canelo usually goes along for the ride, she said in a recent interview, wearing a shirt with a silk-screened llama head on the pocket and sitting in her living room beside a stuffed llama toy, a llama book bag and the latest issue of the International Camelid Journal.

″I don’t think we’ve caused an accident yet,″ she said.

Why would anyone want to own a 400-pound llama as a household pet?

Owners and breeders of the increasingly popular pet also say llamas are good with kids, are cheap to keep and handy on backpacking trips, and can be a good investment.

Canelo eats field grass and maybe a bale of alfalfa a month and happily lives on a quarter acre at Bodington’s suburban home in San Anselmo, about 20 miles north of San Francisco.

Llamas are a doe-faced South American cousin to camels, vicunas, alpacas and guanacos. The long-necked animals, which look like camels minus the humps, can carry about 80 to 100 pounds all day during backpacking trips and their wool sells for about $2 an ounce, she said.

Llamas are basically aloof and must be taught to accept the touch of humans, said Bodington, who has trained about 15 of them. But they also are very gentle and quiet.

Llama breeder Fred Bauer finds there’s ″a wonderful, peaceful feeling″ being around the regal-looking beasts, which are good with children and often pull them around on carts.

Sam Granato, general manager of the International Llama Association in Washington, estimates there are now 10,000 llamas in the United States, compared to about 3,200 in 1982. Most are in the West.

As the demand for llamas increases, so does their value. A male llama that sold for $800 four years ago could sell for twice that today, Granato said. And a female worth $2,000 might cost $10,000 or more.

He said llamas can live as long as 25 years, grow as large as 400 pounds, stand six feet tall and thrive in any climate except extreme, constant heat.

One woolly female recently sold for $51,000, said Bauer, who owns the five- acre Lynx Llamas ranch in Petaluma, about 45 miles north of San Francisco.

Llama breeding has increased because importation has been sharply restricted due to the threat of foot and mouth disease. The Department of Agriculture says 336 llamas were allowed into the United States in 1984, but only 24 last year.

The were first imported to the United States by William Randolph Hearst for his San Simeon estate in the 1930s.

But business really started to boom about 10 years ago, Bodington said. ″Anybody who has been in the llama business for six or seven years is an old-timer.″

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