News / USA

Live Reindeer, Camels Bring Holiday Cheer

Entrepreneurial ranchers cater to people aiming to spice up their events with the real thing

Jingles the reindeer poses with owner Sonya Benhardt and young fans at Swanson's Nursery in Seattle, Washington.
Jingles the reindeer poses with owner Sonya Benhardt and young fans at Swanson's Nursery in Seattle, Washington.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

Holiday shopping is in full swing at Swanson's Nursery in Seattle, where you can buy a Christmas tree, pick up a festive wreath for the front door, or check out Santa’s sleigh.  

A live reindeer, sharp antlers and all, stands next to the sleigh while customers line up to have souvenir Christmas photos taken in the driver’s seat.

Images, inflatables and statues of reindeer are common  fixtures during the U.S. holiday season. As the animals who pull Santa Claus' sleigh while he delivers presents, they are a key part of children's Christmas stories.

While the reindeer adorning holiday displays are rarely real, that's not the case with Reindeer Express, which rents out live reindeer for holiday promotions and pageants.

Ed Benhardt, in green jacket, instantly draws a crowd with his live reindeer.
Ed Benhardt, in green jacket, instantly draws a crowd with his live reindeer.

Sonya Benhardt and her husband, Ed, own the business. It started with two domesticated reindeer in 1998. Now there's a herd of about 40 on their ranch near the small eastern Washington town of Reardan.

The National Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association estimates at least 50 other rental operations thrive in the USA. When they’re not renting reindeer, the Benhardts focus on raising and selling wallabies, exotic birds and waterfowl.

In the United States, most public holiday scenes revolve around Santa. However, churches often erect religious Christmas displays.These usually include nativity scenes, featuring statues of the baby Jesus, his mother Mary, her husband Joseph, and the three kings who came bearing gifts for the child, as well as animals, like lambs, donkeys and camels.

The Benhardts are one of a handful of ranchers to diversify into camels.

Curly the Camel is fully booked for the 2012 holiday season.
Curly the Camel is fully booked for the 2012 holiday season.

"We were approached to do a couple of nativities," Ed Benhardt says. "Then we started getting some interest in leasing them out just the same way we do with the reindeer."

Ed says the big, shaggy beasts do fine here in the chilly Pacific Northwest. "I knew that they would winter well. They winter very well."

He says his five camels are fully booked for the holiday season.

"I think way outside the box. So, a lot of stuff I do, people will look at me and say, 'You're crazy.' A couple years later, they'll go, 'Wow, you're really smart.'"

It does sound smart when you hear how much it costs to get a live camel for your nativity scene: $500 per day, plus mileage.

A pair of reindeer, with a handler, rent for $200 per hour, with a three-hour minimum.

Churches, garden centers and nurseries are leading customers. Other marketing targets include shopping malls and community tree lighting ceremonies.

In Seattle, Swanson's Nursery leased one camel and some reindeer for six weeks. Retail manager Leslie Bruckner insists the price is - in her words - "So worth it."

"We have people that come and visit consistently week after week because they love the animals so much," she says.

Kids and their parents press around the reindeer enclosure, debating which one is Blitzen and which is Dasher, two of the animals named in the poem, "The Night Before Christmas."

Sonya Benhardt has a ready answer when children ask her why the reindeer don't simply fly away. "They can only fly on Christmas Eve," she tells them, "because Santa gives them special, magic dust to make them fly."

Sonya says she purposely didn't name any of hers Rudolph - the famed reindeer with a glowing red nose - so she won't be forced to explain why his nose doesn't shine so bright.

Oregon's Timberview Farm has solved that dilemma. They do rent a Rudolph, but with the caveat that his nose only glows red on Christmas Eve.

You May Like

Video Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid