Tito’s ears perked up and his lengthy neck swiveled towards some deer down the highway. He is probably the most observant and curious of the Llama Squad, a newly shaped trio who stay on a number of acres of land in Bartlett.
Increasingly today, the three llamas, new to Memphis final spring, have been venturing to extra populated spots, posing for images close to the Hernando de Soto bridge and Levitt Shell.
Quickly after, Everett Van Zandt, 3, grabbed the leash and guided the 220-pound llama up a mound of filth for a greater view of the road in Shelby Farms. Tito the Llama, King of the Hill.
Whitney Van Zandt, who dubbed Tito king on a current Friday afternoon, has been round llamas since she was 10. What started as a part-time volunteer job become full-time volunteer job, become a lifelong love.
Initially from California, Van Zandt moved to Memphis practically ten years in the past with different llamas who’ve since died. This spring, llamas Tito, Kaibab and Chewy got here from their former midwestern properties to their new residence with the Van Zandts. Since they arrived, the household has made a pointed effort to socialize the younger trio, benefitting each the llamas and any passersby.
“Everyone, even when they do not come up and see them, once they come by, most instances you get a smile otherwise you get individuals like, ‘What a minute. What was that?'” Whitney mentioned, laughing.
A gradual stream of individuals of all ages got here as much as the llamas at Shelby Farms on a current Friday, inquisitive about the place the three had been from, how they bought right here and what they’re like as pets.
“Not one thing you see on daily basis round right here,” mentioned one man at Shelby Farms.
Whitney acknowledged that “we hear that continuously.”
Like loads of different animals today, the squad has its personal accounts on social media, the place Whitney’s husband, Memphis photographer Phillip Van Zandt, shares their images round city.
“I’ve created Facebook and Instagram pages and even made playing cards for them, which might be probably the most 2020 factor I’ve completed, ordering enterprise playing cards for the llamas,” Phillip mentioned.
Along with photographing occasions, Phillip additionally images cityscapes for a Memphis calendar every year. This yr, he is contemplating placing collectively a calendar of the Llama Squad images he at the moment sells as prints.
The Van Zandts originally got the young llamas with hiking day-trips in mind. Llamas have a low environmental impact, Phillip and Whitney explained, and are generally allowed in most outdoor parks that allow dogs. The bottoms of their feet are two soft pads, similar to deer.
At home, Chewy, 1, Tito, 4, and Kaibab, 4, share around 2.5 to 3 acres of land with goats, dogs, cats and chickens. They are fed at night and have access to grass to munch on throughout the day, as they play with each other and roam around the land. Brothers Everett, 3, and Cooper, 5, play with them and help out with barn chores, like retrieving the chicken eggs each day.
Chewy, the youngest llama, is most social with kids because he’s been exposed to them for most of his life (though he may sniff their faces, Whitney said). Kaibab, known as Kai, was initially more flighty, Whitney said, but has mellowed out. Tito is still the most curious of the three, which may soon grow to a herd of five, with younger llamas to match Chewy’s activity level.
Whitney has worked with the llamas gradually to expose them to new situations, starting at less crowded areas and then working them up to being comfortable in more crowded situations like Shelby Farms or Overton Park. The Van Zandts don’t regularly bring them to events yet, but growing up, Whitney would sometimes bring the llamas she worked with to nursing homes or schools.
And one perk of socializing the llamas around town has been the respite it brings folks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s nice how happy people are” when they see the llamas, Whitney said. “There’s a uniqueness to them that it makes people really happy, but I like being around them, you go out to the barn or whatever…they’re quiet, they’re calm, they’re fun to watch.”
Laura Testino covers education and children’s issues for the Commercial Appeal. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino