Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
Llamas are a domesticated animal but are very common and popular in zoos.
National Llama Day is celebrated each year on the 9th December. This takes place primarily in the United States where it is estimated to be a population of over 150,000 Llamas in private hands.
Llamas are not just popular as pets but also for wool production and as trekking animals.
Trekking is popular and the activity has now spread to the UK and Europe.
The Llama Family
Llamas are South American members of the Camel family.
In South America you will find the wild:
Vicuñas Vicugna vicugna
Guanacos Lama guanicoe
The wild animals are unchanged but the domestic animals have been selectively bred over generations, some for wool, some for meat and some as beasts of burden. They are extremely important to rural Andean life.
Then there are the two domesticated breeds:
Llama Lama glama
Alpaca Vicugna pacos
The Llama is believed to have been first domesticated sometime around 4,500 BC. It was extremely important in Inca culture.
Can Llamas be dangerous?
In general Llamas are fairly placid animals and most likely to spit when annoyed. They do, however have that 'other' side to their character. Some farmers will keep a Llama in with a herd of sheep or goats to guard the flock as they are very aware of their surroundings. The Llama will chase and attack any predators.
Although uncommon Llama attacks on people do take place on occasion. Back in the 1970's I witnessed one such attack when a male Llama reared up and knocked a zookeeper to the ground. Lying on his back the Llama then sat on the keeper who was completely unable to move, or breathe. I fear that if other staff had not witnessed the incident and went to intervene it may have been fatal.
Deaths by Llama have been recorded.