History of Llamas
The llama is a relative newcomer in North America. After the presumed migration of the original camelid seed to Asia and South America, there were no camelids in North America until the importation of llamas as zoo exhibits into the United States in the late 1800s. The number of imports were small and generally included guanacos or guanaco hybrids. Alpaca and vicuna importations were negligible, and any traces of these species in the United States at that time probably arrived via hybrids. One of the more significant importations was made in the early 1900s by William Randolph Hearst to populate his San Simeon estate with these animals as well as a number of other exotic species. Reported to have numbered twelve animals, Hearst's importation is thought to have been the largest to that date. In 1930, importation was cut off by a "Foot and Mouth Disease" (FMD) embargo on all South American hoofed stock. Thereafter, the only stock legally entering the United States came from Canada where the llama population was equally limited. Some unauthorized entries reportedly took place after 1930 but again were small.
These early imports formed the base of the United States llama herd, which, until the early 1970s, resided in private exotic collections and zoos. Its status as an exotic exhibit species did not foster a need for aggressive management or breeding practices. Inbreeding, hybridization, and subsistence management were common. However, a few private breeders and zoos recognized the unique qualities of the llama and began applying reasonable management and breeding practices in an effort to produce a more desirable animal.
These herds increased the visibility and improved the presentation of the llamas. This led to other people becoming interested in raising them as alternative livestock for pet/companion animals and pack animals. Market momentum began to build and by the late seventies, demand outstripped supply and the price began to rise. With this added incentive, there was a move to take off import restrictions and after decades of closure, the restrictions were lifted and South American llamas again entered the U.S. Cost of quarantines and transportation limited those numbers to several thousand. Those animals enfolded with the base population, represent the present U.S. llama herd, now numbering in excess of 100,000 animals.