Sunday, April 29, 2012

Regarding the Emotional Needs of Llamas

By Chela Grey, Stillpointe Sanctuary
Reprinted from LANA News, Issue 109, Winter 2010

Over the many years I have been blessed to work and live with llamas, it has become more and more obvious to me that these creatures have very real emotional lives and are capable of feelings and a certain reasoning power. For those of you who are already poo-pooing this line of thought, please read on. You may not agree, but you may learn a way to look at the animals in a different light. I’m not out to convince anyone that what I say is "right"; I am only putting forth some interesting observations that may lead to spirited discussion and good thought exercise… and just maybe, better treatment of all animals.
Here are some anecdotes that support my contention that llamas are feeling, caring, thinking animals who form true "families" with many of the hierarchical rules contained in human families: Recently, I placed two female llamas (a mother and daughter) as a team of sheep guards, believing from their behavior with their herd that they would be perfect for the task. The fact that I was quite mistaken about them being good candidates for guard duty is fodder for another article/discussion, so I'll stay with the emotional side of things for this one. Not even an hour after we had left them, I got a call from the new owners that the mother llama had jumped the fence and was running around the neighborhood, an approximately two-square mile area, with access to deep woods on two sides and several well-traveled roads in the vicinity. After an exhaustive three-hour search, culminating with a call from an observant neighbor and a slow "chase" ending in blackberry bushes, the llama lady was haltered and led back to her trailer, where her daughter was awaiting the trip back to their original home.
Upon returning to their herd, they were greeted by all the other herd members with the high pitched "keening" sound we often hear between moms and crias and among herd members who have been separated from one another for periods of time ranging from half an hour to weeks or months. A note about these two girls: they have been on the same farm from the time the mom was two years old and the daughter from the day she was born. The herd has remained almost completely intact, with only one animal being sold away and two dying.
Another anecdote involving this same pair and a friend of the daughter: one of the other females born on this farm suffered from megaesophagus and had to be euthanized. She and the daughter were best buddies, so when I took the ill girl to the hospital, I took her buddy along for companionship. The buddy stood right next to her friend, watching her every move and exchanging hums with her during the exams. When the x-rays showed beyond a doubt how far down this girl had come and the decision was made to let her go over the Rainbow Bridge, I took the two of them to a stall so that we could all have some time together. They seemed to communicate on a profound level, staying very close together and looking at one another. The vet came in and gave the initial tranquilizer; the companion girl watched this, and when the other girl relaxed and kushed, and I held her head in my lap, the companion gave one last sniff at her, turned her back and kushed right next to her back. She did not watch the vet do the final injection and did not look back when we left the stall. When we arrived back at their farm, it was quite dark. As we opened the trailer door, the mother came running out of the dark, making that same keening sound and was greeted in kind by her daughter. They ran off together into the dark pasture. No other llama came to meet us.
A final example: The task of picking up a young male llama from his birth farm, where he was with his mother and four other llamas, fell to me, as I had, for two years, managed the farm and knew the animals. The youngster (10 months old) was to be given to another farm. When we arrived, it was obvious that the mother and son were very attached to one another and were, in fact, being kept together in one small pasture. After haltering the mom, the son was haltered, and we led them both to the trailer. An aside—no one had handled the llamas since I had left approximately two years prior, and I was the only one who could halter them. The mom was actually glad to see me, as she had always been. We enticed the son into the trailer by putting mom in first (dirty trick); then removed her. As we drove away, mom was running up and down the fence humming and keening. The son was doing the same inside the trailer. When I went back to the farm approximately three months later to do toenails and shots on the mom and the other llamas, the mom all but attacked me. She spit, kicked and crowded me, refused to be haltered, and just generally raised a terrific fuss. She had never done that with me before and has not done it since. She was, in my opinion, very angry with me for taking her boy away. We have since made our peace, but our relationship is not the same.

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