THE NEED FOR LLAMA RESCUES – A GROWING CONCERN
Lance Hardcastle and George Brandon
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.)
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
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
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
Making clear to prospective buyers our message – purchasing an unknown
animal from an unknown source is the recipe for heartbreak and
Emphasizing to potential buyers the five rules of responsible llama
Know the background of the
animal that you’re considering buying,
Know the seller,
Buy only a trained,
easily-handled animal. (An unworkable animal becomes a candidate for
Never buy an
unnaturally-weaned animal (unless the purpose is to save the animal’s
Do not support animal
brokers, livestock auctions, or breeders whose only goal is to sell llamas
regardless of circumstances, and
Remember, first and foremost, that you are buying a sentient, trusting creature whose fate will be determined by your actions.
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.
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
Joining local and regional llama associations, and supporting efforts to
address the problems facing the llama industry.
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.)
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.
you do to help?
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.
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,