Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Llama-heavy states saw their numbers drop from 2007 to 2012. But in Arizona, the beasts are only getting more popular.
#Llamawatch: That which gave meaning to an otherwise bland Thursday afternoon.
America (or at least, its media bubble) watched anxiously as a pair of llamas ran amok among the sprawling, trafficked streets of Sun City, Arizona, a snowbird-heavy community in the Phoenix metro area. The camelids were safely apprehended by the Maricopa County Sheriff and "llama farm volunteers" after a two-hour chase.
As Christopher Ingraham already noted on WonkBlog, the number of llamas in Maricopa County isn't remarkably high compared to the country's true llama capitals—Morrill County, Nebraska, houses some 913, which is astounding given that 1,837 live in the entire state, according to the 2012 U.S.D.A Agricultural Census. "In short, if [the llama chase] could happen in Maricopa County, it could happen anywhere," Ingraham wrote.
Perhaps. But if those Census numbers are to be trusted, we'd put our future-loose-llama-money on Arizona. Llama-heavy states such as Texas, California, Washington, Oregon, Ohio, New York and Colorado all saw tremendous drops in their llama populations from 2007 to 2012; Oregon plummeted from 9,380 to 4,555. But Arizona's numbers shot up by more than 50 percent, from 834 to 1,274.
Why does Arizona llove llamas so much? "People have finally realized that not only can you llama wool to spin or knit or weave, you can train them to carry a pack," says Alicia Santiago, founder of Arizona Llama Rescue, which last year took in about eight llamas whose owners were no longer able to take care of them and adopted them out. "They're great hiking companions."
Which doesn't quite explain why Arizona's so anomalous, but Santiago did note that the 2008 recession spurred her highest number of llama rescues ever—27. It was a tough year. "They're not as easy to place as a dog or cat," she says. That could shed some light on why numbers have dropped in most states since 2007. (Let it be known that while there is an industry publication entitled Llama Life II, its articles are tragically subscriber-only, and could not be consulted for theories behind Arizona's llama boom.)
And finally, what of all this talk that Sun City's escaped duo might actually be alpacas? "Oh no," says Santiago. "Those were definitely llamas."