by Guest Blogger Robyn Williams
The pads on their feet resemble a dog’s, not exactly soft but spongy with thick, rough skin. Their feet spread when they walk, which I assume is something the llama evolved to accommodate rocky, mountainous terrain, and what makes them such superb and sure-footed pack animals.
When it’s time to halter them, to cut their wool or their toenails or vaccinate, they force me to follow them to the fence. They keep their big round rear ends to me, shifting right or left as I try to maneuver to their sides. They each kick when I’m behind them, drawing one hind leg up and out. It’s a medium-weight Bette Davis slap, but faster than you’d imagine such an ungainly creature could move. The trajectory’s always the same, connecting about mid-shin, and doesn’t hurt a lot. But because guard llamas will kill coyotes by stomping them to death, I’m certain they could hurt me if they really felt threatened. I think they’re just being crabby.
Once they surrender and allow me to slip a halter over their noses and buckle it behind their ears, they’re mostly docile and will follow me with little argument. Mostly. If one balks, the other stops dead in his tracks and there’s no pulling them anywhere. All I can do is walk around behind them and force them to circle and avoid me, and once they are both moving they’re likely to keep following. On hot summer days, I tether them to the fruit trees in the back yard where they enjoy the shade and mow a perfect circle in the grass around each trunk.
They are fat and complacent now but when they were young and still had testicles they were fierce fighters, brawling like teenage boys. One would get a little too close, they’d square off, stretch their necks, point their noses in the air and spit. Spitting is a normal llama-to-llama behavior and though most people think llamas will spit at humans, it isn’t really common. It is entirely possible to get caught in the crossfire, however. And it’s not merely spit but the llama equivalent of cow cud and more than a little nasty. If spitting wasn’t enough to get the other to back off they’d charge, butt their broad chests and bash each other with their long, muscular necks.
Their territoriality with each other is a strange contradiction to their need to be together. If Sparky is tethered and Alf is led away, they cry to each other in a mid-pitch, throaty hum. Alf will turn to look worriedly as he’s led away, and Sparky is attentive, ears pitched forward. It’s clear they are distressed when separated. They are old brothers, have been alone together nearly their entire lives. Is it just their genetic programming as pack animals? Is it the animal version of what we know as love?