What Good is a Llama?
Great for carrying stuff
- Thousands of years ago, people in South America first used llamas to carry goods over difficult mountain trails.
- Llamas are agile and have padded feet--making the animals perfect for this job.
- These days, people in many parts of the United States use llamas to carry their stuff on mountain trips. That's called "llama trekking", and it's fast-becoming a popular activity.
Good with kids
- Llamas are gentle around kids, rarely biting or kicking.
- So kids can learn all about animal care while taking care of, and training, llamas.
Nice show animals, bringing cheer
- More and more llamas are being shown at fairs and livestock shows.
- Llamas are appearing at parades, sometimes pulling carts or wearing costumes.
- And some llamas are being taken to nursing homes and hospitals to entertain and cheer up residents.
Bearers of wool
- Llamas are valued for their soft wool.
- The wool is sheared off and can be made into scarves, shawls, mittens, hats, and bags, among other things.
- Llamas are used to guard herds of sheep, goats, and alpacas.
- The llamas are effective at keeping away coyotes and other predators.
Do they spit?
Llamas normally don't spit at people. They spit on other llamas. (It's a llama's way of saying "get lost!") But llama babies that are raised by humans and never hang out with other llamas could be another story.
They don't see people as different from them--or as scientists put it, they "imprint" on people. So they may spit at humans just as they would at other llamas.
Some llamas that have been treated badly by people may spit too. But in these cases, their bad habits aren't really the llamas' fault! Most well-trained llamas that grow up with a llama mom and hang out around other llamas never spit at people. Instead, they are gentle and respectful toward people.
If you're thinking of buying a llama:
- Don't buy just one. They're herd animals and need at least one companion.
- Don't buy a llama that's younger than six or seven months, especially one that has been, or still is being, bottle-fed. It's important that the babies be raised by their llama moms in a herd. Otherwise, they wind up treating people badly and often have to be destroyed. (See above about spitting.)
- Don't buy any llamas to ride like ponies, at least not if you're an older kid. Only those under 40 pounds can ride a llama, using a special pack saddle. Why? Because these animals can't withstand weight directly on their spine. (When they carry packs, the weight is distributed evenly around their rib cages.)
- Read up on llama care and talk to lots of well-respected llama breeders.
- Be sure you and your family have enough space, as well as the time and the dedication to keep these animals.
Want to find out more about llamas?
Illustrations by Dave Clegg