TAMPA — If you work in downtown Tampa, you may have seen him Monday.
On four legs he strode the streets, cruising past city hall and county center before turning heads at the Hillsborough courthouse — where many wondered what a business a llama might have in court.
Photographs proliferated on social media: a llama with brown and white fur being led on a rope by a bearded man in a brown shirt and black cap, toting a backpack.
Was the llama a defendant? A crime victim? A prospective juror?
An emotional support animal?
People demanded to know: ¿Cómo se llama, llama?
The sightings began before 8 a.m. Monday. Among the first was on Franklin Street outside the offices of Prida, Guida, and Perez P.A. The llama stood beside a black alpaca near a van that had words like “Freedom” on the windows and phrases demanding that we “take back our farms.”
The majestic creature was later seen strutting past Tampa City Hall and near Hillsborough County Center. Erika Troconia-Rodell glimpsed the wondrous animal about 8:30 a.m. heading east on Washington Street near the Sun Trust building.
“At first I thought it was a dog, but then did a double take," she said, “and it was that llama.” She managed to capture a few seconds of video as she parked her car. But before she could inquire, the llama and its guide vanished.
Heads continued to turn as the llama headed north on Jefferson Street, strutting past the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office and the courthouse annex wherein a double-murder trial was in full swing.
There were more double-takes as the northward march continued in the direction of the George Edgecomb Courthouse. Photos of the animal shuffling through the crosswalk at Twiggs Street began to circulate on social media.
“Definitely a prosecutor,” wrote Twitter user Thomas Allen Gore.
“It’s Florida. The llama is definitely evidence,” wrote Laura L. Davis.
“Filing ple-e-e-e-e-e-e-eadings,” wrote Patience Burke.
A Twitter user with the handle @arewhyinoh posted an image of a llama dressed in a finely tailored suit, dubbing him “Gary J. Oberman. Esq. Llama attorney at law. Divorce and small claims.”
But who was the llama, really?
And why was he in town?
Animal court was not in session Monday. Court personnel confirmed the llama never entered the building. Later images appeared to show him continuing northward past the building that houses the Public Defender’s Office.
The Florida Bar later Tweeted a photo of a group of attorneys posing with the animal and his handler. They identified the llama as “Thaddeus."
As the investigative resources of the Tampa Bay Times turned toward the task of identifying the beast, crowd-sourcing efforts steered a reporter to news stories about Ethan Abbott.
He calls himself Ethan the Farmer. He’s an activist from Colorado and the owner of a llama whose name is indeed Thaddeus. He also owns a pair of alpacas named Shay and Tragically Cute.
Abbott has traveled the nation for years, appearing at various demonstrations related to homelessness, veterans issues and farmers’ rights. His animals accompany him.
Reached via phone late Monday, Abbott confirmed that he was the mystery man taking Thaddeus for a stroll through the city.
Abbott’s aim is to get government “out of our farms and our food.” He has a website, justusriders.org, detailing his beliefs and his cause.
Typically, he walks the animals through the cities they visit. Thaddeus has ridden the New York City subway and mingled with visitors in Times Square. But perhaps their greatest attention draw came in 2017 at the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. There Abbott appeared with all his animals, including a dove he kept tucked in his jacket.
Before their trip to Tampa, Abbott, his animals and two supporters visited Miami and Sarasota. The llama’s Tampa walk was relatively short as the furred friends don’t take well to the Florida heat.
Their next stop is Ocala, where Abbott said they will participate in a demonstration against forest service regulations.
So why bring the animals?
“It’s a way of getting people that normally would not talk to me to talk to me,” Abbott said. “When they see a big fluffy animal, they all want selfies.”