Next on the list of animals encountered in British Columbia is this bunch of llamas. They are co-residents of Coldstream Meadows, a retirement community where we have been helping out this past week.
There are around 800 llamas on 150 farms throughout British Columbia. Apparently, a few years ago, there was a kind of fashion for more exotic animals – hundreds of farms and homesteads thought to raise non-native animals such as llamas, camels and ostrich, for their meat, hair or curiosity value. In fact, more recently, there have been issues with BC’s once relaxed legislation that has seen snakes, big cats and monkeys introduced as pets – and after many of the expected problems about animal welfare, culminating in a tiger-mauling in 2007, the rules were tightened up a few years ago.
Llamas are originally from South America, of course, and are quite suited to the milder winters of the south BC mainland. Once a year they are sheared and their hair is woven into lightweight, water-resistant, warm wool.
Things we learnt about them from the people at Coldstream:
- We hoped to get a photo of a llama spitting but either these were really chilled out or they just don’t do it that often. Only one person at Coldstream had had the llamas spit on her – she said that the spit is actually a mixture of bile and vomit – a regurgitated, disgusting mess.
- Horses and cows are a little afraid of llamas but dogs are generally OK with them. They act less like the ruminants that we’re used to – they don’t eat non-stop, are more likely to lie down or roll around in the grass.
- They won’t poop all over the field but only in their ‘home’ territory. Out on the trail, you have to take a can of dirt along with you for the animals to poop on that.
And this is what I learnt about them from a recent Guardian newspaper editorial:
- The llama and its fluffier, smaller relative the alpaca are among the most successful immigrants to the United Kingdom in modern times. They marked their arrival by going to the very top, grazing for Queen Victoria at Windsor. For years a source of high-quality textiles, following Sir Titus Salt’s breakthrough in spinning alpaca weft with a cotton warp in Bradford in the late 1830s, the animals have long been valued for their fleeces. Now they have earned a bigger niche in their own right. At dozens of tourism sites, they add to the interest of petting farms (their spitting is largely exaggerated, except at each other) or carry baggage for hikers, an occupation which the llama seems particularly to enjoy. Unlike sheep or cattle, llamas appear interested in human activities. They are drawn to noise and movement, standing, wrote Thornton Wilder in The Bridge of San Louis Rey, with ears curved like question marks, apparently on the brink of joining in a conversation. This month they have shown another aspect of their versatility, and in the process helped an ancient but challenged native species. Climate change has made life uncomfortable for the vendace, one of two curious fish endemic to the English Lake District (the other is the schelley of Helvellyn’s Red Tarn). Thousands of young fish from Derwent Water have therefore been moved to Sprinkling Tarn, much higher and colder – on llama-back. Sure-footed, comfy and quick, says the Environment Agency. And greener and cheaper than a jeep.