Llama is an indispensable domesticated animal that is commercially found throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.
The animal is extensively maintained by the natives of Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.
The llama is a South American member of the camel family and close to the Alpaca, Guanaco, and Vicuna. It is also collectively known as lamoids and has been a widely used pack animal since the pre-Columbian Era by Andean culture.
As of 2007, there were over 7 million llamas in South America due to importation in the late 20th century. There are now over 158,000 recorded llamas found in the United States and Canada.
Animals are known to belong to specific scientific classification, and that of the llama is illustrated below:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Artiodactyla
- Family: Camelidae
- Genus: Lama
- Specie: L. glama
- Scientific name: Lama Glama
Early writers compared llamas to sheep, but its physical similarity to the camel was soon recognized, with a distinctive difference of the hump at the camel’s back. Llama is a fairly large mammal, with a slender body and the largest of the lamoids.
The beautiful creature can stand about 1.21 meters at the shoulder, 1.2 meters long from head to tails, with a bodyweight of 130 to 200 kilogram.
Llama possesses a long neck, limb, rounded muzzle, protruding lower incisors, cleft upper lip, long and slightly curved ear characteristically shaped like a banana. They also have narrow feet, plantar pad toes on each foot’s sole, short tail, long willy, and soft fiber.
A common coat pattern is reddish-brown, piebald, grey, or black with mottled patches of yellow. It is primarily an animal used to carry freight, goods, or supplies of 45 to 60 kilograms and travel an average distance of 25 to 30 kilometers per day.
Southeast Peru and Western Bolivia is the natural habitat of the llama. They extend across countries with Andes mountains, temperate, terrestrial, and agricultural environments such as Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, America, Europe, and Australia.
They are known to inhabit an estimated elevation of 4000 meters and can adapt comfortably within the habitat of high – altitude and little oxygen. This is due to the high concentrated hemoglobin in their bloodstreams.
The llama is considered a gentle, highly social, very intelligent, and extremely observant animal. Mostly found living in groups of up to 20 individuals, consisting of 6 breeding females with their offspring.
The group is usually led by a male llama, who aggressively defends its dominance through battle. After a battle for superiority, submission stance is usually by laying sideways on the ground with neck lowered and tail raised.
Llama can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions and are very vocal with their low yammering calls. They are also known to use communally shared locations (latrines) for feces, possibly as a territorial demarcation.
They are extremely curious, and most will approach people easily. They can also be very aggressive when overloaded or maltreated, especially towards predators.
Generally, a llama would lie down, hiss, spit, kick, and refuse to move in most cases of maltreatment. It would also defend itself against predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, ocelots, and humans by kicking, spitting, biting, or charging at them.
Other behavioural traits of the llama are:
- If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, an alarm call – a loud, shrill sound which rhythmically rises and falls – is sent out, and all others become alert. They will often hum to each other as a form of communication.
- The llama’s sound-making groaning noises or going “mwa” (/mwaʰ/) is often a sign of fear or anger. Unhappy or agitated llamas will lay their ears back, while ears being perked upwards is a sign of happiness or curiosity.
- An “orgle” is the mating sound of a llama or alpaca, made by the sexually aroused male. The sound is reminiscent of gargling, but with a more forceful, buzzing edge. Males begin the sound when they become aroused and continue throughout the act of procreation.
A gregarious herbivore by nature, the llama loves to graze on grasses, plant roots, tubers, grains, nuts, sap, and lichens. Their distinctive teeth help in clipping vegetation against hardened gums.
Llamas are not ruminant animals, but they regurgitate their food, chew on wads for sometime before swallowing for complete digestion.
Their complex stomach with several compartments allows them to consume lower quality and high cellulose food. Its incredibly long and large intestine enables it to survive from its feed than its water intake.
Mating and breeding
Llamas are polygamous and can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Male llamas are known to gather a harem of about six females into a designated territorial region, then aggressively drive away all other male llamas of breeding age who come close to the area.
They mate mostly during summer and early fall, in a lying down position (kush) fairly unusual for a large animal, and mate for an extended time of 20 to 45 minutes.
Llamas have an uncommon reproductive cycle for a large animal. This is because female Llamas are induced ovulators and do not go into heat. The gestation period of a llama is usually 350 days.
Female llama gives birth to 1 young almost every year between 8 a.m and noon, in a standing position considerably problem-free and last not longer than 30 minutes.
A baby llama (Cria) is usually given birth to, with all females gathered to protect it from male llamas and potential predators. Female llamas can produce about 60 milliliters of milk lower in fat, salt and higher in phosphorus and calcium at a time.
They do not lick off their babies due to the length of their tongue that can’t exceed a distance of 13 millimeters.
Crias, mostly nurtured by their mothers, weigh about 10 kilograms and are nursed for 4 months to 1 year. They are up, standing, walking, and attempting to suckle within the first hour of their birth.
Female llamas mature sexually at different rates and reach puberty at about 12 months, while males don’t reach sexual maturity until around three years of age.
In captivity, llamas can survive up to 10 and 20 years. In the wild, they naturally survive for 20 years, while individual llama has been recorded to survive for 15 years.
Humans have used llamas for transportation, fleece production, and guard animal for livestock like alpacas, sheep, goats, and horses for years.
Its high thirst tolerance and endurance ability to subsist on a wide variety of forage makes it a vital transport animal on the bleak Andean Plateaus and mountains.
Aside from its primary use for transportation, the llama has contributed to the human community. Its soft and lanolin-free wool is used for wooden fabrics made into outwear rugs and ropes.
Its skin is also used as a food source, leather, hallow for candles, and dried dung for fuel.