Notice fewer llamas around? You're onto something. The federal government says America's llama population has declined drastically from roughly 145,000 in 2002 to fewer than 40,000 in 2017, NBC News reports. Seems a market that once included wealthy athletes and high-flying celebs quietly slid off a cliff in recent years. "You used to go to the major sales and shows, and people would come in these Class A motorhomes. These people owned manufacturing plants, their own jet planes, whatever," says longtime Indiana llama farmer Mark Smith. "They were driving the market when llamas were a good investment." But the market was more craze than practical investment, considering llamas don't have many high-profit uses.
They can work as pack animals, provide fiber, guard sheep, or join people on peaceful nature walks, per ABC Australia—but beyond that, what can they do? After llama prices soared through the early 'naughts, selling for up to $220,000, the 2007 financial crash crippled the market; llama farms closed, fewer were bred, and climate change increased parasite risk for llamas as winters got warmer. But now farmers say low population has increased rarity and breathed life into the market, which is fairly affordable again, maxing out around $20,000 per llama. "You'll have some of the wealthiest CEOs in the country participating alongside a blue-collar, minimum wage individual," says Smith, "and in the llama community they are equals." (Read more breeding stories.)