He’s old enough to rent a car. He’s old enough to run for Congress.
There’s just one problem: he’s a llama.
One-eyed brown llama and Albuquerque resident Dalai Llama turned 27 on Friday. His owners, Andrew Thomas, Kee Straits, and their daughter, Samibah “Sami” Straits, celebrated what they hope is a world record-setting birthday for the oldest llama in captivity on Jan. 28.
Party guests dined on ribs, burgers and chocolate cake while Dalai noshed on alfalfa “cake” complete with candles reading “27.” Dalai wore a festive string of felt pom-poms and his best friend, a Nigerian dwarf goat named Gelato, donned a jauntily-askew party hat.
“This llama is bringing everyone together,” said Shannon Fleg, a family friend of Thomas and Straits.
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Fleg brought a sign and a carton of apples for the birthday boy.
The last record was set in 2020 by Rapper, a llama in Olympia, Washington. At the time of certification, Rapper was 26 years and 258 days old.
Dalai was born at the Dorsey Mansion Ranch in Raton in 1996. Straits and Thomas got Dalai in 2007, years before 13-year-old Sami was born, when Dalai’s original owner, a 4-H member, went to college.
Sami grew up riding on Dalai’s back around the bosque and the Sandia Mountains – until she grew too big. Thomas said that Dalai has always been “surefooted” navigating mountainous terrain.
“He was so proud when he put on the saddle,” Sami said.
Like Dalai’s original owner, Sami is active in 4-H. Ribbons and awards for prize-winning animals line the walls of her room. She wants to become a vet, and even recently shadowed at a veterinary clinic.
Thomas and Kee and Sami Straits raise several animals on their northern Albuquerque property, QD Farm, including guinea pigs, Navajo churro sheep and chickens.
Kee Straits is Peruvian and Quechua. Thomas is Navajo. Among all the animals on the farm, Sami said, both cultures are represented: Peruvian with the guinea pigs and llamas, both of which are indigenous to Peru, and Navajo with the Navajo churro sheep.
“We’ve grown up so interdependent with each other,” Kee Straits said. “In Peru, our llamas are part of our ceremonies, and we celebrate them … they’re a livelihood.”
Dalai lives with fellow llama Dalí, named after the surrealist painter, and his best friend, Gelato. Thomas said that Gelato cries when Dalai leaves the pen, and the pair often sleep and cuddle together.
“It’s the cutest thing,” Thomas said.
No representatives from Guinness were in attendance at the party. Thomas and the Straits collected photos from Dalai’s life and his International Lama (sic) Registry certificate – a “birth certificate” for llamas – to prove that he was, indeed, turning 27. Several witnesses from the community attended the party to verify that they had seen proof of Dalai’s age on behalf of Guinness. It can take several weeks or months for Guinness to certify a world record.
Llamas generally live between 15 and 20 years. Llamas del Sol founder Lynda Liptak, who served as an official witness for Guinness, said that llamas in captivity generally live longer than those in the wild.
Kee Straits said her family’s two llamas have different personalities.
“Dalai has always been a spitter, like, more fiesty, more of a leader – he’ll boss the other ones around,” Straits said.
Dalí is a bit more shy – but Thomas said the two llamas are “inseparable.” Thomas said if they get a third llama, it’ll be named Obama Llama.
Kee Straits said Dalai’s old age is a “miracle,” especially after a close call last year when his eye had to be removed following an infection.
But Thomas attributes Dalai’s good health to the love the family gives him and all their animals. Dalai isn’t their only long-lived animal – they had a hen that lived 15 years, far above the average lifespan.
“That means that we’re taking care of them,” Thomas said. “They have a special feed … when you take care of someone, it takes care of you in return.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated Dalai Llama’s color. He is a brown llama. It has since been updated.
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