By Brandon Martin
According to international researchers in Belgium, a four-year-old llama named Winter, may be the key to finding an antibody to combat the coronavirus.
In addition to larger antibodies like those of humans, llamas have small ones that can fit into spaces on viral proteins that are too small for human antibodies. This helps them to fend off the threat. The llama antibodies could help protect humans who have not been infected.
The news came to no surprise to local llama ranch owner Laura Steere.
‘Llama Llaura,’ as she likes to be called, co-owns Infinity Acres Ranch in Ridgeway, along with her husband ‘Rancher Rick.’ The ranch is home to a host of exotic animals such as birds, marsupials and camelids such as llamas.
Laura Steere said that since her husband and herself “were llama lovers before llamas were cool,” everyone else is catching onto the benefits of llamas late, but she is glad that her furry friends are finally getting the “recognition that they deserve.”
“Camelids are amazing animals,” she said. “Llamas fall under the camelid family and I’m glad they are finally getting their due.”
Since 2007, Infinity Acres has embraced the healing properties of llamas, and with the formation of Friends of Infinity Acres Ranch (FOIAR) in 2012, the ranch officially became a 501-C-3 organization and started program expansion.
According to their website, “Friends of Infinity Acres’ goal is to be an innovative nonprofit that offers learning and personal growth opportunities assisted by domestic and exotic animals to individuals in the (Martinsville-Henry County) and northern N.C. areas.”
The objectives are to “expand the educational animal assisted programs and outreach to become a sustainable contributor to the community. FOIAR’s desire is to provide enriching animal interactive programs for individuals with disabilities and area youth that will allow participants to gain knowledge, confidence and skills to become productive citizens.”
Steere said there is a lot of joy that comes from “the therapeutic interaction” with their animals, and she also gains satisfaction from seeing others “overcome their obstacles with the assistance of llamas.”
For five days a week, the ranch hosts guests through their Enriching, Nurturing, Animal Based Learning Experiences (ENABLE) program that provides educational activities assisted by animal husbandry/agricultural experiences for individuals with disabilities.
Due to the ranch’s designation as a nonprofit for their work with the disabled, it has been deemed ‘essential’ under Virginia’s coronavirus operational guidelines, but Steere said that while llamas may provide the necessary antibodies to combat coronavirus, their organization has taken a financial hit due to social distancing guidelines.
Steere said that because some of their ENABLE participants live with caretakers, that their typical numbers have lagged. That, coupled with cancellations of field trips and other services, has left them in a hole.
The ranch is willing to fight through the tough times, though. It now provides a “Zoo to Zoom,” where guests can participate in a zoom meeting with some of the ranch’s animals.
After sanctions are lifted, Steere said that the ranch will host a baby shower for one of their camels. The shower is set for June 13, from 1-4 p.m. Attendees can play games, buy an item for the gift registry and participate in a variety of other activities.
Due to the financial strain of the coronavirus, Steere said the nonprofit is “in big need of volunteers and donations.”