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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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