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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs