Camelid Topics

Camelid Topics & Issues

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Alpacas and Llamas are domesticated for their wool and as draught animals. Camels still serve a central rôle in desert areas, as a means of transport and beasts of burden. Because of the different biology of these creatures, special issues arise.

Dromedaries, Bactrian camels, alpacas (huayaco and suri types), llamas, vicuñas and guanacos are all in the camel family, which are ruminant-type herbivores but very distinct from cattle, sheep, goats and deer. In the UK, camels and dromedaries are usually only seen in zoos. Llamas, alpacas etc. can be seen on farms, however, in quite large numbers, as a result of recent increasing popularity. The young are called crias.

Llamas and alpacas are rather gentle but ‘distant' creatures, rather than affectionate pets. In domesticated llamas and other camelids, hand-reared males can show a dangerous behaviour trend, known as berserk male syndrome. They appear to fixate on the foster parent and then, when mature, feel competition and react accordingly. Charging, barging and spitting are not uncommon in such situations.

Camelid species, when suspicious, fearful, angry, aggressive, anxious, protective or defensive, can ‘spit'. This is actually projectile regurgitation of foul-smelling rumen contents (ingesta, cud). They can project this material very accurately up to a spitting distance (spitting range) of about 5 metres. It is very ‘lingering' and can be dangerous if it goes into eyes or wounds. Spitting is usually signalled by an extreme ‘ears back' (ears pinned) expression, with muzzle lifted and neck straightened. Happily, llamas rarely spit at people, unless they are abused. Perhaps the most dangerous time for this activity is around the time when a mother is nursing a new cria.


See also: Diseases