Llamas are a versatile animal. Widely used as guardian animals and fleece producers, llamas may also be used as show animals, pack and cart animals, animal-assisted therapy workers and as pets.

by Dani Yokhna
PHOTO: Johann "nojhan" Dréo/Wikimedia Commons

Use: Llamas are widely used as guardian animals; fleece producers (llama fiber averages 20 to 30 microns in diameter, compared to alpaca fiber’s 15 to 30 microns); show, pack, and cart animals; as animal-assisted therapy workers, and as pets.

History: The ancestor of today’s llamas evolved on the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. Some migrated north across the Bering Straits to further evolve as Old World camels, others journeyed south to become South American camelids: guanacos and vicuñas. These two species were domesticated in the high plains of Peru well before 3000 B.C., becoming llamas and alpacas, respectively. The ancient tribes of the region, most notably the Incas, kept llamas as pack animals. Llamas also produced fiber for weaving rugs and twisting strong ropes, they provided tasty meat, and they were widely employed as sacrifices in ancient burials and religious rites. After the Spanish conquest, more than 300,000 llamas were used to pack ore down from the famed Potosí mines alone. In the late 1800’s, North American European zoos began adding llamas to their collections. One of the more significant importations occurred in the early 1900s when William Randolph Hearst imported 12 llamas to populate his San Simeon estate. Eventually, llamas became more commonplace, leading to an active market both here and abroad. The United States llama herd now numbers in excess of 100,000 animals.

Conformation: Llamas come in all sizes from standard-size llamas in the 250 to 400 pound range to miniature llamas standing 38 inches or less at the shoulder. Four coat types prevail: llamas with short, shedding fiber (also called classic or ccara llamas); medium-length fiber (sometimes called curaca llamas); long, non-shedding fiber (variously called tapada and lanuda llamas), and non-shedding suri llamas with fiber that hangs in locks like that of longwool sheep. Llamas come in a palate of beautiful colors ranging from white to blacks and everything in between in solids and pieds and appaloosa-spotted animals.

Special Considerations/Notes: It’s a common misconception that llamas readily spit; while they do spit at one another and in perceived self-defense, socialized llamas rarely spit at their human caretakers. They’re intelligent, intensely interested in the world around them, and somewhat aloof (many seasoned owners compare them to cats). Baby llamas (called crias) should never be separated from their dams and bottle-raised as pets (visit llama trainer John’s Mellon’s website at www.mallonmethod.com/llearning4.html to learn precisely why).

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