Lance Hardcastle and George Brandon


The problem

 The llama industry is experiencing a time of unwelcome change, influenced, in part, by the sale of low-quality animals at prices well below those established by reputable, conscientious breeders. These llamas sometimes come from large farms, where females, regardless of characteristics or quality, are repeatedly field-bred by any male that happens to be handy, the only goal being to produce, at minimal cost, animals that can be sold quickly and cheaply. Other inferior animals come from “amateur” breeders, owners of a single male and a few females, who, without any regard for sound breeding practices or any guidance from knowledgeable breeders, annually produce and sell two or three crias.  These breeders, lacking concern for the well-being of the animals that they produce, are driven only by the prospect of a profit of a few dollars per head. The "mass-produced" llamas are often sold or traded at cattle and livestock auctions, flea markets, and neighborhood farm stores to anyone willing to pay $100, or less, for an animal that is usually purchased on a spur-of-the moment whim. After the initial enthusiasm of the purchase has abated, many buyers find that they lack the resources, skill, or level of commitment needed to properly care for their animals.  As a result, the animals may be neglected, abused, or abandoned, with some ultimately dying from neglect or lack of proper medical care.

Three examples from East Tennessee and North Carolina illustrate the unethical sale practices now becoming all-too-commonplace.  In one recent report, a few-days-old cria was sold at a flea market, with the assurance that it could be taken home, bottle-fed, and raised as a pet, similar to a puppy or a kitten.  In a second case, it was reported that more than 50 llamas were sold at a cattle auction, with none of the llamas selling for more than $150.  These animals had been trucked in from other states, and included young animals without mothers.  The crias were described as "itty-bitty and cute" by one woman attending the auction. (No information or instruction on llama care or feeding was made available to the buyers.) 

The third example involves a current situation in North Carolina, where two females have been acquired by a rescue facility.  One of the females, not yet two years old, is underweight, in poor health, pregnant and near delivery, having being bred by an unknown sire.  The other female, not yet four years old and unregistered, is pregnant with her third cria.

 We’re also experiencing an increase in the personality and behavioral problems that can result from the sale of young animals, especially males, to people without the knowledge needed to successfully care for and train the animal. A female cria, raised as a bottle-fed pet and bonding or identifying (imprinting) with humans rather that other llamas, often matures as a pushy animal, difficult and disagreeable to handle. With a male llama, the problem can be much more serious and a human-imprinted male usually responds to its improper training by maturing into a dangerous and unmanageable animal that may eventually have to be euthanized. Although many animals can be successfully rehabilitated if the pattern of improper behavior is reversed in time, owners often lack the knowledge or experience to recognize the problem as it develops. Also, as the animal ages, the training needed to correct the personality disorders becomes more difficult and time-consuming, requiring the services of experienced trainers and specialized “treatment” farms and facilities.

 Unfortunately, the llama industry seems to be in the same predicament as are responsible breeders and owners of dogs, cats, horses, pot-bellied pigs, and other popular species of animals.  Greed is a powerful motivator, and as long as there’s a profit to be made, some people will continue to mass-produce and market animals without concern for the fate of the animals that they produce.

 Is there a solution?

 What can we, as responsible llama owners and breeders, do to counteract the indiscriminate marketing of low-cost, low-quality, field-bred animals that may eventually be neglected or abandoned by disinterested, uncaring owners?  The answer is, unfortunately “not enough.”  We can, however, (and must) adapt to the situation by

 1.  Aggressively marketing our industry. We must address not only the sale of our animals, but we must also generate publicity to make prospective buyers and owners aware of the advantages of buying from an established, reputable breeder or seller.

 2.  Making clear to prospective buyers our message – purchasing an unknown animal from an unknown source is the recipe for heartbreak and disaster.

3.  Emphasizing to potential buyers the five rules of responsible llama ownership:

 4.  Encouraging “beginners” or first-time buyers to purchase only gelded males. We must strongly discourage the sale of an intact male to anyone except an experienced breeder.  Likewise, we should discourage the sale of a fertile female to a new buyer whose goal is to “have babies because they’re so cute.”  If the buyer is adamant about producing a cria, offering a discounted breeding with the sale of a female gives the new buyer the opportunity to experience the pleasure of a new cria while leaving the seller with a degree of control over the quality, and number, of crias to be produced.

5.  Keeping prices at reasonable levels.

 6.  Guaranteeing after-the-sale support.  Make it clear that you want llama ownership to be a positive and rewarding experience for the buyer (and that you’re concerned about the well-being of the animal that you’re selling.)  Establish a contractual agreement that includes a first refusal repurchase clause if the buyer becomes unable to keep the animal.

 7.  Joining local and regional llama associations, and supporting efforts to address the problems facing the llama industry.

 Llama Rescuers

Because we live in an imperfect world, there will always be animals needing deliverance from unhealthy or abusive situations.

In spite of our efforts, Llamas will continue to be sold to owners who may lack the resources or the commitment to care for their animals on a long-term, continuing basis. Consequently, after the initial excitement of having an unusual animal has worn off, some llamas will become unwelcome burdens, and the result too often will continue to be neglect, abuse, or abandonment.  Without outside intervention, many of these animals may be doomed to a short, tragic life. To meet the need for intervention, llama rescue programs are organizing, dedicated to retrieving and rehabilitating llamas trapped in unacceptable situations.  Typically, a llama comes to a rescue organization through the intervention of individuals who become aware of an animal needing rescue, or through the efforts of local humane societies or local law enforcement agencies.  In some cases, the owner may realize that the llama needs a better home and may contact a nearby rescue organization.  Often the llama is donated to the rescue organization but, frequently, the animal must be purchased from its owner.  (Rescue programs are sometimes criticized for purchasing an animal, the argument being that this only encourages the owner to buy more animals at low prices, hoping to sell them – at a profit – to the same rescue organization.  Most rescue programs, however, will buy only one animal from a seller.  Repeat sales are often prohibited by the rescue organization’s rules.)

 Treatment and Training 

A physical examination, followed by any necessary medical treatment, is the first priority for an animal received by a rescue organization.  Animals often carry a high parasite load, so worming is usually needed. Toenails are often grossly overgrown and, in the hotter months, symptoms of heat stress may be evident, requiring shearing and other cool-down treatments. In the past, animals have been found to be wearing a too-small halter that was never removed, the result being that the skin had actually grown over the halter, requiring surgery.

 Once the immediate medical concerns have been addressed, and the animal placed in a comfortable, non-threatening environment, behavioral problems can be identified, addressed, and corrected, processes that may take many months to complete.


 At the appropriate time, after the llama has been judged to be both physically and “mentally” healthy, a permanent home is selected.  Rescue operations tend to be very strict about permanent placement of a rescued and rehabilitated animal. Applicants for rescued llamas are interviewed and fences, shelter, surrounding environment, etc. are checked. The most important factor that determines an applicant’s suitability for llama ownership is commitment.  If the applicant is committed to providing a proper home and good care for the animal, minor deficiencies with pasture, environment, etc. are easily corrected.

 Once the llama is sent to its new home, the rescue organization often retains the right to examine the animal, unannounced, for a minimum of one year to be sure that the animal is being treated properly.  Rescued llamas are typically sold to the new owner and, although a fee is charged, it probably does not cover the costs incurred in rescuing and rehabilitating the animal.  The fee does, however, provide part of the funding necessary to continue rescue operations.

What can you do to help?

Rescue programs cannot succeed without the support of the llama community. Volunteers are needed to distribute information. Brochures, handed to new owners at sales and auctions, can provide basic information on the care and feeding of llamas. Cards or flyers, distributed at sales, auctions, feed stores, co-ops, etc. can also list the names/telephone numbers of experienced llama owners willing to answer questions or help new llama owners with problems. Many of the rescue programs lack adequate funding and all can use donations of feed, halters, leads, wormers, medical supplies, etc.

Note: Two organizations located in North Carolina and Tennessee will accept llamas for rehabilitation and relocation; Southeastern Llama Rescue (SELR, 704-689-5925), located near Asheville, NC, and  Indian Creek Llama Rescue (ICLR, 865-435-4273), located near Knoxville, TN.