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Masters of all they survey: These working llamas escort visitors on hikes in Alaska. Photo by Linda Neuchterlein of Alaska Llamas and Outdoors.

Llama owners are uniting to overturn a ban by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on the animals in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Why it matters: Llamas are increasingly popular as hiking companions — they'll carry gear uncomplainingly, with a calm and contemplative gaze — and owners say the move could have broad-reaching implications on the animals' use in the lower 48.

Driving the news: As of August 31, Fish & Wildlife prohibited "domestic sheep, goat, and camelid pack animals on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," arguing they pose a disease threat to Dall's sheep, which are native to the Alaska mountains.

  • Llama owners protested and filed a lawsuit in D.C. Circuit Court, saying the move was based on bad science.
  • They've been raising money through a GoFundMe called the Llama Defense Fund.
  • A major concern is that Fish & Wildlife — which issued a "no comment" to Axios on the matter — will try to widen the ban, imposing economic hardship on the growing number of people who rent pack llamas to wildlife lovers.

What they're saying: "The idea was to try to build a bit of a war chest, because if they're banning them in Alaska and it holds — and hopefully it doesn't —  who's to say it's not going to spread to other states and parks?" said Paige McGrath, who helped organize the GoFundMe.

  • McGrath — who raises champion llamas at Lower Sherwood Farm in Charlottesville, Va. — offers nature walks with herd members like Tucamon, Chewy, Gryffindor and Teriyaki.
  • "A lot of us do llama hiking on a commercial level, and that's a big threat to us, to have all of a sudden have some doors closed on us where we can't take our animals," she tells Axios.

Barb Baker of the Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Association — which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit — says Fish & Wildlife's concern about llamas is based on "old science" that's been debunked by top camelid veterinarians.

  • She and other llama owners have been amassing evidence on a website.

What's next: The two sides have a court-mandated schedule of meetings in April.

Go deeper

26 mins ago - Health

Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific COVID vaccine

A health worker in Palestine preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 24. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they have started clinical trials for a reformulated vaccine to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Why it matters: The rise of the Omicron variant has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.

America can't quit polarizing politicians

Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online.

Why it matters: Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive.