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The origin of Llamas
Llamas are members of the Camelid family which, according to scientists, originated on the central plains of North America about 40 million years ago. The Camelid family includes camels, alpacas, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. Though extinct in North America, they previously migrated and were domesticated from guanacos in the Andean highlands of Peru thousands of years ago. The llama (pronounced "yama"), is among the oldest domesticated animals in the world. While their primary use was as a beast of burden, they also provided native herdsmen with meat, wool for clothing, hide for shelter, manure pellets for fuel. Their thick coats of wool and honed survival instincts have allowed them to thrive in one of the most extreme climates on earth.
The ancient Incan empire flourished from about 1200 to 1532 AD. It was centered around the lost Incan city of Machu Pichu perched on a high saddle, between two jagged mountain peaks, 2,000 ft. above the mighty Urubamba River in Peru. The Incans depended on the llama to transport root crops, trade goods, and building materials to extremely difficult to reach locations throughout the South American highlands.
Revered by the Andean people, llamas are similar to the bison of the indigenous cultures of North America. The llama is the second most depicted form in Andean art, next to the sun (which was their deity). This "whistling llama pot" is well over a thousand years old. The Quechua people of the Andes call the llama their "Silent Brother".
The Llama today
Today in North America, llamas have been brought in as 'zoo' and 'exotic animal park' novelties; and also used for packing and companion animals. More recently, they have also appeared as show, guard/sentry, 4-H, cart and fiber animals. As the numbers of llamas have increased, through directed breeding, better nutrition and education, more and better llama fiber is being gathered and used around the country. Llama fiber has become highly prized by many handspinners, weavers, felters and fiber artists.
Selectively bred for gentleness, for over five thousand years, a well trained llama will eagerly follow adults and children alike. Llamas have enabled owners to facilitate wilderness experiences for a wide range of people; from groups of enthusiastic young trailblazers to experienced mountaineers, to self-proclaimed couch potatoes.
Llamas are the perfect low-impact, high altitude pack animal. Their leather padded, two-toed feet and natural agility give them sure-footedness akin to mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Their tracks and droppings are similar to an elk's, and have little impact on fragile wilderness trails. They exemplify the "leave no trace" wilderness ethic.
Llamas are great hiking companions. They are alert, curious, and excited to be in the mountains. They walk at a comfortable pace for hiking humans; and their keen senses of smell, hearing, and sight will often point out a distant herd of deer or elk for us. They have captured people’s hearts with their unique, "llama-like" behavior and amusing personalities. Their presence makes time in the wilderness even more memorable.
Llamas come in many different shapes and sizes. They can have light, medium, or heavy wool, which could be a solid, marked, spotted, shaded, or pinto color. Eating a browser's diet of fresh plant material, hay, and some supplemental grain and minerals, adult llamas can weigh between 200-450 pounds and live 20-30 years with good health care. Llamas only have bottom teeth in the front of their mouth to nibble the vegetation. When it is time for a rest, they will relax and chew their cud.
Llamas are clean animals with very little body odor and they use a communal dung heap, which means all the llamas use the same manure pile. Llamas need basic shelter from wind, rain, cold, and heat. In the summertime, llamas are shorn (wool trimmed off) to help keep them cool and they also like to have their legs and belly hosed down with cool water. Llamas enjoy kushing (lying down) in front of a fan to stay cool and sometimes, you might catch one in a small kid's pool or playing in a sprinkler.
Llamas are highly social animals and need the companionship of other llamas. A llama communicates with body language-the position of his tail, ears, neck, and body. A llama commonly makes three noises: a hum, a shrill alarm whinny (a warning of predators), and orgling (a loud gargle which males make when breeding).
Although llamas do not normally spit at humans, they might if they feel threatened or if they have been mishandled or abused. Llamas spit at each other to maintain their pecking order in the herd, to protect the best eating spot, to discipline a youngster, or to reject unwanted advances from an amorous male.
Llamas are very intelligent, independent, aloof, curious and gentle, which, as companion animals or pets, makes them a non-demanding pleasure to be around and train. Llamas are especially good with children and can be fun for the entire family. A llama can provide wool for fiber crafts, walk in parades, carry a pack for picnics and camping trips, be a jogging companion, visit nursing homes and schools, guard small livestock, entertain at birthday parties, pull a cart and compete in llama shows.
Llamas have two types of fiber-guard hair and undercoat hair. The guard hair usually grows faster, is hollow, coarser and straighter than the undercoat. The guard hair tends to cause rain, snow etc to run off and debris does not stick to the guard hair as much. The undercoat usually is finer, with much more crimp than the guard hair. The different fibers are used in different ways/methods. The guard hairs can be used to form lead lines and rope; combined with the undercoat, can be spun for yarn to weave rugs, llama blankets; the undercoat and the single hair fibers can be spun for clothing or cloth weavings.
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