Here are some excerpts from some of the most commonly asked questions as answered by our llama guru, “Domino”.
Dear Domino, I am wondering, where do llamas come from, anyway?
Though we llamas are getting more and more prevalent in the United States, we haven’t always lived here. Llamas come from South America, but geological evidence shows that llamas originated right here in North America about 40 million years ago. During the ice age they were forced to move. One group crossed the Bering Sea land bridge to Asia, evolving into the camel. The other group migrated to South America and settled in the high plains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, evolving into what is today the vicuna, the guanaco, the llama and the alpaca. The Incas used llamas as pack animals as far back as 6,000 years ago, ranking us among the world’s oldest domesticated animals.
Dear Domino, Just how many llamas are there in the U.S.A.?
We are becoming more and more popular, which is understandable, as we are such lovable animals. As recently as 1992 it was estimated that there were 30,000 llamas in the United States. Today we number around 200,000.
Dear Domino, What can you do with a llama?
Oh, lots and lots of things. We are very versatile animals. As I have mentioned before, llamas were bred to be pack animals; so of course, we are very good at carrying things. We carry camping supplies and food for picnics. We carry tools for the forest service rangers when they are doing trail maintenance, and we work as caddies, carrying golf clubs for the golfers. We can also pull carts. We like to walk in parades and go to shows and fairs. We produce wonderfully soft wool that can be used for clothing. We often work as guards to protect sheep and goats, and sometimes we visit hospitals and nursing homes to cheer people up. Besides all of these things, we also make darn good pets
Dear Domino, Do llamas make good pets?
Lots of people want us as pets. Many people find that it’s hard to just have one, though. In fact, unless people want us to be a guard animal, we should always have a buddy llama. We are very social animals and we would be very lonely by ourselves.
Dear Domino, How long do llamas live and how big do they get?
The llama’s average lifespan is 15 to 25 years. We can get to be 3´ to 4´ high at the shoulder, and 5´ to 6 ½´ tall to the tops of our ears. On average we weigh from 250 to 450 pounds.
Dear Domino, What colors do llamas come in?
Oh, my! We come in every color imaginable. Well, I take that back. I’ve never seen a green or a blue llama. But llamas come in many colors and patterns ranging from white to black and many shades of gray, brown, beige, and reddish brown. As you can see from my picture, I am a gorgeously spotted llama, commonly known as an appaloosa. My spots have shades of black, brown, gray, red and beige.
Dear Domino, Are llamas smart?
Ahem! Of course we are. We are very intelligent and easily trained. One of the techniques our people use with us is the "click and reward" method. When we perform a behavior correctly, they click a hand-held clicker and reward us with a little grain. I particularly like this technique, ‘cause I’m just crazy about that grain. This works better with some llamas than others. Santiago, our head guy, doesn't respond to this technique. He's extremely bright (I say stuck up), and it's almost as if he's saying, "I'm above being bribed to do that". Oh well, his loss, my grain, so to speak.
Dear Domino, What kinds of sounds do llamas make?
We llamas communicate by using various sounds as well as subtle positioning of our ears and tails.
Humming. The most common sound we make is a soft hum. It sounds a lot like a person humming. We hum when we are concerned, curious or tired. Mothers also hum to greet their babies.
Clucking. We often do this when greeting a new llama or as a warning to back off. It sounds like a person clicking their tongue against the roof of their mouth while keeping their mouth closed.
Alarm Call. The other sound you might hear us make is our alarm call. We do this when we spot something suspicious, like a wild animal or stray dog. This sounds something like a combination between a horse whinny and a donkey bray. Santiago, the head guy, is always the one to sound the alarm call. He will run in the direction where he saw the intruder, and the rest of us follow close behind. We’ve chased a fox across the pasture before. We also have a lot of deer that have the audacity to jump into our pasture and graze on our grass. We’ve gotten used to them though and don’t give them a second thought. We do see our share of bears, though, and Santiago will sound the alarm call to warn us to be alert. They are just black bears, though, and probably wouldn’t dare to mess with us. We keep on our toes, though.