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Dolly the Llama dies at Lake Superior Zoo

Dolly the Llama, the 12-year-old who was popular with Lake Superior Zoo visitors and appeared in the zoo's TV commercials, died Monday night. (Photo courtesy Lake Superior Zoo)

Dolly the Llama, beloved by Lake Superior Zoo staff and visitors in spite of sometimes cantankerous behavior, died of unknown causes Monday night. She was 12.

Dolly exhibited signs of illness on Sunday, said Peter Pruett, the zoo's director of animal management. The zoo's veterinarian and animal care staff attended to her, but she continued to deteriorate during the day on Monday.

Her body was sent to the University of Minnesota for necropsy. There are "multiple potential reasons" for Dolly's death, Pruett said. "We don't know what happened."

The normal life span for a llama is between 20 and 30 years, he said.

A news release from the zoo quoted barn keeper Jennifer Eickhoff, who said Dolly would be missed by the zoo staff and the public in spite of her sassy personality.

"It's not like she didn't spit on people," Eickhoff said. "But people loved her anyway, and everyone called her by name. The children adored her because she would take the pellets from them with her fuzzy lips, and it would tickle their hands."

Dolly was also something of a media star, appearing in several of the zoo's commercials.

There's talk about bringing a replacement llama to the zoo, but nothing definite, Pruett said. "We know how important and popular Dolly has been for the zoo."

One issue is that the zoo would like to open up the barnyard to the public to make it a true petting zoo. But llamas aren't a good fit for a petting zoo because of their "aggressive" behavior, he said. They not only spit, they kick.

In fact, many Central American shepherds use llamas, rather than dogs, as guard animals to keep wolves and coyotes away, Pruett said.

The zoo's recent accreditation wouldn't be a factor in obtaining a llama, because accreditation isn't required for obtaining domestic animals, he said.

Even though a new llama isn't a certainty, "everybody's already started" talking about what a new llama would be named, Pruett said. Keeping the "olly" -- as in Molly the Llama, Holly the Llama or Jolly the Llama --is on the top of everyone's list, he said.