During the course of our work as contract archaeologists, we often find ourselves in agricultural fields, and sometimes also pastures. Usually it’s no big deal. Cow pastures are the most common, and cows tend to be fearful, and leave you a wide berth. (Bulls are sometimes more aggressive. A bull once walked up to each digging team in turn, about ten feet away, and stared us down. He didn’t offer violence, but it was still unsettling, especially since we were several hundred feet away from the fence. And another time a bull literally stamped his feet on the ground like in the cartoons, and made snorting/huffing noises. We hopped over the fence before he decided to complete the threat and charge.) Horses are typically super curious, and walk right up to you. Sometimes they even stand on our equipment, and once one tried to eat my dig partner’s straw hat.
But one time the crew found itself on a farm in
which had llamas. Some friends of mine,
Otto and Emma, in their words, deliberately “riled up” a llama, knowing that
another friend (Hi Beast) was approaching.
She walked up to the llama and said hello. It responded by spitting right in her face.
Llamas are fairly large, up to six feet tall to the top of their heads and 280-450 pounds, and native to
South America. They are part of the camelid family, which
includes camels (of course), vicunas, guanacos, and alpacas. Vicunas and guanacos are the wild species,
while llamas and alpacas are the domestic variants. People in South America
have been utilizing them for thousands of years, as they make good pack
animals, are edible, and their hair is excellent for making warm clothing.
Camelids have a weird reproductive system, too. Females have no estrus or “in heat” times—instead, the act of mating causes an egg to be released, and then fertilized. So, basically, females are good to go pretty much whenever, usually the only exception being if they’re already pregnant.
In addition to their other uses, people have discovered that llamas make effective sheep guarders. If you put a single unbred female or castrated male llama in with sheep, they sometimes bond with the sheep. They can be fierce guards—they occasionally will kill dogs or coyotes who try to attack their sheep.
Llamas owners have learned that, essentially, when raising them, that familiarity breeds contempt. If young llamas are bottle fed and frequently handled by people, they grow up to be ornery and difficult. It’s almost as if they regard a too-friendly person as another llama. And although they’re social animals, they often engage in mini fights with each other, and kick, neck wrestle, and yes, spit at one another to establish their rank in the herd. But, if a person doesn’t bottle feed them, or handle them often while they’re young, and instead trains them after they’ve been weaned, the llamas tend to be more docile and better behaved toward humans.
I had llama meat at the same restaurant, Dave’s Exotic Burgers, where I had the python (See September 7th, 2014 post). Unlike the snake, the llama burger was in the traditional patty shape and size. And I liked it. It had an odd, gamey aftertaste, but somehow in a positive way. I thought it was a bit better than the python. I would have it again, but as with the other exotic burgers, the price was fairly steep ($20 for the burger and unlimited French fries).
Llamas are vocal creatures, too, and often communicate with each other using humming sounds. But be forewarned: If you hear a male making a gargling type noise, which has a buzzing quality to it, which sounds like “orgle,” it means he’s sexually aroused.