Llamas in the City

Llamas help improve people’s health in Plattsburgh

Story and photos provided by Nancy Lee Destiny

Hugs, the guard llama, loves carrot sticks. To feed him, cut the carrots into stick and hold it up at the fence.

What in the world are llamas doing in the city of Plattsburgh? Hugs and Kisses, two male guard llamas, have been living on the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital’s grounds since 2006.

Registered with the International Llama Registry, Hugs and Kisses are a
special part of the zoo at CVPH. The zoo began in 1979 and first featured Asian deer, peacocks, and donkeys, but it later expanded to include Mute Swans, goats, and geese. A Blue Heron, seagulls, ducks, and catfish are the latest additions to
the unique zoo.

William H. Miner, a local businessman, became rich after having an invention patented. In 1926, he purchased the land where CVPH now stands. Using the land as his residence, Miner planted a forest of hundreds of spruce trees, American elms, and Golden and River Willows.

Legend has it that one evening while having dinner, Miner‘s wife suggested building a hospital on the land. The idea for a petting zoo came later, and the community has been enjoying their furry friends ever since.

“I feel it is our duty here at CVPH to provide a respite for patients, the community, and our staff—something they can enjoy every single day.”

People can take a stroll and feed the llamas and ducks, too,” says director of marketing and public relations Mike Hildebran. “I feel it is our duty here at CVPH to provide a respite for patients, the community, and our staff—something they can enjoy every single day.” Hildebran says it’s good for the people, the animals, and the environment, as the zoo helps preserve the beauty of the land as a natural resource.  He considers himself fortunate to have witnessed the zoo’s growth and transformation over the past three decades.

What was once just a zoo is now referred to as a community park, says Craig Von Bargen, supervising groundskeeper and head of security. In addition to visiting the animals, visitors can also go for walks, relax on benches, enjoy picnics, and meditate in the tranquil surroundings. Professors at SUNY Plattsburgh sometimes host their nursing classes at the Angel of Hope Memorial at the park, and patients at the hospital can look out windows and see a healthy setting, where Frisbee tossing and playing tag are common sights, he says.

“It makes the patients feel better when they can watch the ducks and the families feeding the geese and llamas,” Von Bargen says. In this way, the llamas are helping to improve people’s health and well-being, he adds.

Watching and feeding the ducks on the grounds is a popular pasttime of residents.

The llamas’ original registered names were Nichee and Marshall, but soon after their arrival, CVPH had a contest to re-name the llamas. The winner chose the name Hugs for the white llama and Kisses for the chocolate-colored llama.

"In this way, the llamas are helping to improve people’s health and well-being."

When visiting the animals, people can also feed them—just not bread. Von Bargen says bread is not a healthy food for the llamas, geese, or ducks, so he encourages visitors to bring carrots and apples, which the llamas can’t get enough of, he says.

“It brought along with it a certain ambiance, a certain amount of diversity in people and customs and relationships,” Herkalo says. “It enriched the community.”

Keisha Ward and her daughter Nevaeh, 2, stroll through the grounds when time permits.

Although Hugs and Kisses are simple llamas, Von Bargen says they have one request: “Cut the carrots into sticks and then hold it up to the fence.”

Even when not visiting CVPH, the community cares about and watches out for the animals, too. “We get many calls after a storm wondering about them and if they’re all right,” Von Bargen says. “We are considering putting in a llama cam on the building somewhere and aiming it down at the llamas, so people can watch them. We think it will be very popular.”


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Five Little-Known Facts About Llamas

  1. They can be registered with the International Llama Registry in North America.

  2. They can be given official names just as the American Kennel Club does with dogs.

  3. There are categories for llamas, such as guard llamas and regular llamas.

  4. Llamas live an average of 20 to 25 years.

  5. They are very social animals.