A Llama is a domesticated South American “camelid”, widely used as pack animal and also for its meat by Andean cultures since pre-Hispanic times. The name Llama (in the past also spelled ‘lama’ or ‘glama’ ) was adopted by European settlers from native Peruvians.
The Llama appears to have originated from the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. They migrated to South America about 3 million years ago. By the end of the Ice Age (10,000 – 12,000 years ago) camelids were extinct in North America. As of 2007, there were about 7 million Llamas and Alpacas in South America, and due to its importation from South America, in the late 20th century, there are now over 158,000 Llamas and 100,000 alpacas in the US and Canada.
Lamoids or Llamas (as they are more generally known as a group), were compared, by early writers, to sheep, but their similarity to Camels was soon recognized. The height of a full-grown Llama is 5.5 – 6 feet tall to the top of the head, and can weigh between 130-200 kilograms. At birth, a baby llama (called a “cria”) can weigh between 9-14 kilograms. They typically live for 15-25 years, with some individuals surviving 30 years or more.
The ears are rather long and slightly curved inwards, characteristically known as “banana shaped”. There is no dorsal hump. The feet are narrow, the toes being more separated than in the camel, each having a distinct “plantar pad”. The tail is short, the fibre is long and soft. The wool, produced by a llama, is very soft and lanolin-free. Llamas are of many colours, being often white, brown or piebald. Some are grey or black.
They are very social animals and live with other llamas as a herd. They are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repititions. When using a pack, they can carry about 25%-30% of their body weight for 5-8 miles.
They are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. However, llamas that are bottle-fed or over-socialized and over-handled, as youth, will become extremely difficult to handle when mature, when they will begin to treat humans as they treat each other. This is characterized by bouts of spitting, kicking and neck-wrestling. When correctly reared, llamas, spitting at a human, is a rare thing.
They live as a family and take care of each other. If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, a warning bray is rent out, and all the others become alert. They will often “hum” to each other as a form of communication. If a llama is agitated, it will lay its ears back.
Young, growing llamas require a greater concentration of nutrients than the mature ones, because of their smaller digestive tract capacities. Llamas produce only one offspring annually. Llamas have a fine undercoat which can be used for handicrafts and garments. The coarser outer-guard hair is used for rugs, wall-hangings and lead-ropes. The fibre comes in different colours ranging from white or grey to reddish-brown, dark-brown and black. They are used as burden-beasts. The endurance of cold, ability to live on the mountain herbage and sure-footedness have peculiarly fitted them for this purpose. Only the mature males are used as burden-beasts, the smaller females are reserved for their milk and flesh (which resembles mutton) and is extensively eaten. The dried dung is used for fuel and the m ilk is employed as an article of the native diet. When over-loaded, llamas lie down and refuse to budge. When irritated, they have the habit of kicking at their adversaries and spitting quantities of evil-smelling saliva.
A “CAMA” is a crossbreed between a llama and a camel.