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Llamas -- no longer at Dog & Pony Ranch

Llorenzo February 2024

Update Feb 4, 2024: Many of our followers saw our tragic news about our llama, Mozart -- thank you for the kind condolences and sharing your special memories of him and our other llamas. We took immediate action to keep our smaller animals safe by locking our mini donkeys and remaining llama in the center aisle of our barn at night for a couple of weeks while we decided what to do next. We considered getting Llorenzo another llama friend as we pondered ways to keep llamas safe with the increasing predator issue with livestock (more below). However, we found a fantastic re-homing option that we have decided to do -- Llorenzo's breeder wanted to take him back after his years at D&PR honing skills as a llama ambassador. Llorenzo (aka Caleb) will be doing many more llama walks with people touring Hidden Oaks Llama Ranch and he will be a personal pet to the breeder's grandkids since he's proven how gentle he is with children. Llorenzo will have MANY llama friends again and enjoy the grassy Oregon pastures where they haven't had a lion attack in 28 years of breeding llamas.

We have absolutely enjoyed our years as llama caretakers and everything we've learned about these amazing animals. It's been very difficult decision to no longer have these special animals at our Ranch and we will greatly miss them. We've talked to helpful people and believe this is in Llorenzo's best interest so will treasure our many special memories with llamas (favorite photos below).

For guests wanting to meet llamas/alpacas, there are a few places in California where people can go interact with them (Google for llama/alpaca ranches close to you or try searching Airbnb Experiences), though we've never found anywhere else allowing guest dogs to safely meet llamas nose-to-nose (especially since many have Livestock Guardian Dogs). Currently scheduled Dog & Pony Ranch guests have been notified and given the option to cancel without a fee by 2/14/2024 if this news changes their minds about coming here with llamas no longer part of our Ranch experience (most of our guests come here primarily to allow their dogs to run off-leash so others will be happy to fill any re-opened dates).

Mozart January 2024RIP Mozart Sadly, we lost our beloved Argentine llama, Mozart, to a mountain lion the night of January 23, 2024 💔. Mozart was best known by guests for giving “kisses” (see video below) and his love of special grain treats. Highly motivated by these treats, he would come greet guests (human and canine) saying “hi” to guest dogs through the fence, enthusiastically eating treats from hands or bucket, going on llama walks with guests to our favorite scenic view spot, and even jumping over a log demonstrating his agility. We will treasure so many special memories and photos/videos of him including the ones posted here and on Facebook/Instagram. Thank you for all the love you’ve shown our animals over the years – we’re so sorry that this will undoubtedly sadden many of you too who have enjoyed your time with Mozart or were looking forward to meeting him.

We’ll spare our ranch fans the traumatic details but we’ve been grieving while dealing with logistics and ensuring our remaining animals’ safety the past week. We know guests will have questions so will try to anticipate a few here.

Llama lifespan: Llamas live to an average age of 15 with a few reaching their 20’s. At 8.5 years old and in his healthy prime, Mozart and us were definitely robbed of many more good years together 😢. Our llamas are not merely "livestock" but rather beloved pets and special members of our ranch family.

Mountain lions and livestock: A decade ago when we were deciding which animals would be best to expand beyond our “dogs and ponies” at our ranch, we researched and learned goats/sheep/alpacas would definitely not be safe unless had LGDs (Livestock Guardian Dogs) living with them. LGDs didn’t make sense for our dog-friendly guest ranch since they would be frequently barking at visiting dogs so guests wouldn’t be able to enjoy meeting our barn animals. Some ranchers lock-up smaller livestock in barns at night (which we do with our chickens) but that is challenging with bigger animals when we travel (and llamas don’t like being confined inside). Horses, donkeys, cattle, and llamas are big/fierce enough that lions usually leave them alone since these animals can fight back (and have successfully, especially horses who can disable predators with their kicks) so these are the animals we’ve chosen and loved. Llamas are the most at risk of these species (CA Fish & Game confirmed this week that even mini horses/donkeys are rarely attacked) but llamas are tougher than they may seem and used as goat/sheep guardians against coyotes (able to rear up and bring down 300-400 lb blows on an attacking predator). We’ve been fortunate these past 7 years of llamas on our ranch but predators are getting bolder as we found when updating our research this week.

What’s changed in California (researched facts --please don't turn our grief into political debate): In 1990 mountain lions (aka cougars or pumas) became a protected species in CA that couldn’t be hunted so their numbers began to multiply. There were provisions that a cougar who had killed livestock would be tracked down and relocated or humanely destroyed. When we reported Mozart's death and CA Fish & Game confirmed it as a mountain lion kill, we learned that this policy has changed and now cougars are allowed to kill livestock/pets, only being tracked if they have repeated confirmed kills at the same ranch or pose a risk to humans. What was previously an extremely rare occurrence is becoming less rare as these apex predators are getting trained where they can more easily hunt fenced-in livestock. This was a key factor in our decision to re-home our remaining llama -- we removed our most at-risk livestock so even less reason for lions to come to our ranch (and why we never got goats/sheep/alpacas).

Will I be safe at the Dog & Pony Ranch? The odds of seeing a lion and getting injured by it are incredibly small, e.g. much less likely than being hit by lightning. There have been very few mountain lion attacks on people since they warily avoid people. However, no one can guarantee that you will be safe from mountain lions anywhere outdoors in California and the very rare encounters get lots of press. Decades ago when we lived in the Bay Area, we remember a cougar who was spotted in a tree at a nearby elementary school and a quick online search will show recent sightings in cities such as these in Bay Area Oct 2021, Jun 2022, and Mar 2023. So you have just as much chance of encountering a lion on a Bay Area walk as here on our Ranch. We have only seen a few cougars on our motion-activated trail camera in our >25 years here and all have been at night -- we have never seen any during the day and neither have our many guests. We have always recommended that guests stay near the house after dark, but you shouldn’t have significant concerns walking the trails during the daylight hours with your pack. If you enjoy hiking in California as we do, it's important to be knowledgeable about what to do if encountering predators (basics to remember: stay calm, don't run, don't approach, don't get between mama & babies, look big so don't crouch/bend over, make noise, and do back away slowly while maintaining eye contact). Experts advise keeping your dog(s) on leash if you are concerned that they might get injured trying to defend you if you have a very rare cougar encounter though there are documented cases of big dogs keeping lions at bay by barking at them. More expert advice can be found on national parks and other websites.

Happy Memories! Here are some of our favorite photos/videos of our wonderful llamas (Zuni, Llorenzo,and Mozart) at the Dog & Pony Ranch.

Our llama Mozart enjoyed his "kissing" trick shown in video clips (basically touching noses which is a natural llama behavior to sniff someone new, that I cued with an anthropomorphic "kiss" sound) and inspired a t-shirt designed for guests who "kissed a llama and lliked it".