Llamas are members of the South American camelid family and are mostly found in the high altiplano regions of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They are the domesticated cousin of the wild guanaco and are extensively used by the Andean people and in the past by the Incas, as beasts of burden, for food, for fibre and their hides used as leather.
They were 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!
Llamas can be grouped broadly into two types: Ccara and Tampuli.
“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 woolled 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 generally 12 to 18 years although some may live to be over 20.
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!
A number of 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. Llamas do not have to be sheared 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 successful 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 above information is courtesy of the British Llama Society : www.britishllamasociety.org