Llamas are members of the South American camelid family. Domesticated from the Guanaco some 5000 years ago their ancestors inhabited the plains of North America and migrated south to the Andes about three million years ago.
Contrary to popular belief, it is actually quite rare for a llama to 'spit' at a human! They will spit at each other though, to sort out herd disputes and chastise lower ranking llamas for inappropriate behaviour.
Llamas and Guanacos
Llamas can be grouped broadly into two types: Ccara (classic) and Tampuli (Woolly).
“Ccara”, the most commonly seen type in the UK, has a short to medium length coat with very short fibre on the legs and head and tends to be larger than the Tampuli.
The“Tampuli" is more heavily wooled than the Ccara, its coat extending down the legs and often distinguished by a woolly "topknot".
The llama is the largest of the South American Camelids, weighing anything up to 400lbs (180kg) and standing approximately 4 ft (1.25m) at the shoulder.
Elegant with an exotic quality, llamas are strong, intelligent, and hardy. They have a gentle temperament and inquisitive nature. With their distinctive "banana" shaped ears, they are found in a variety of colours from solid white to black and with varying shades and mixes of brown and grey.
Llamas are very diverse animals and are becoming much sought after in the UK for their many attributes.
Their life span is 15 to 25 years although some may live to be up to 30.
Field Pets: Llamas are becoming increasingly popular as field pets being gentle, quiet, hardy and undemanding. They live in harmony with other field stock and make good companions for lone ponies etc. They quickly learn to wear a halter and to be led. Llamas can be taught to pull a cart.
Trekking: Llamas can be walked for pleasure and will happily carry a pack, offering the long-distance walker or the picnicking family both a fun companion and a willing helper! Some enterprises around the UK offer llama treks of varying lengths from just a half day upwards.
Fibre: llamas have a double fleece; an outer guard hair and a fine, soft undercoat much sought after by hand spinners. You do not have to shear Llamas at all, but the undercoat can be used to make an array of wonderful garments, and the guard hair can be used for other products such as bags, rugs, etc. The fleece comes in many natural colours from white to black with a wide range of browns and greys in between.
Livestock guardians: Although gentle by nature, male llamas are protective of their group and are used very successfully to keep predators from attacking lambs and even ducks and poultry
The Guanaco is not domesticated in South America, but there are a small number of domestic herds in the UK. The Guanaco has an outstanding fleece, even finer than the Llama. Guanacos are a honey shade of brown or cinnamon with white under-parts and dark grey head. They stand approximately 1 to 1.5 metres at the withers, weighing 100-150 Kgs.
The British Llama Society is the national herd society and an excellent source of further information.