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Native to the mountains of South America, the llama is related to the alpaca, guaņaco, and vicuņa, all of which are also native to South America. All four of these species appear to be descended from a single ancestor that crossed the Bering Strait land bridge that existed during the last Ice Age, and which was also likely an ancestor of the Bactrian and Dromedary camels of Asia and North Africa. Llamas were domesticated about 4,500 years ago by the Incas, who used them as beasts of burden, for their wool, and as a food source. Today they are raised primarily as novelty pets, and to a limited degree for their wool and as protectors of sheep and goat herds.
An adult llama stands 40-50 inches at the withers, 60-72 inches at the poll, and weighs 250-300 pounds. It has a long graceful neck and relatively small head with large eyes and large curved ears. It is differentiated from its relatives by its high-cut flanks accented by a pendulous abdomen and a slightly forward-leaning carriage. Its fur is long, dense and fine, and grows up to 8 inches long on the neck, back and sides; fur on the undersides and legs tends to quite short. Unlike sheep, llama fur lacks lanolin, which makes the wool water resistant. Fur color can be brown, red, black or white, as well as just about combination of those colors. There are no specific breeds based on color, size or length of wool.
Females become sexually mature at about two years of age. Although males are best bred after three years of age they can mate successfully as young as six months. A single calf (twins are extremely rare) is born after a gestation of about 344 days. Weighing about 18-31 pounds at birth, the newborn can stand within an hour and feed within four hours. The mother will not clean or lick her baby, but may help it stand and nurse.
Llamas are fairly easy to raise because they require much less feed than horses and other livestock and can take advantage of a wide variety of forages. Their native climate makes them extremely hardy and able to survive a wide variety of habitats, although extreme heat and humidity can cause problems for them. While some ranchers raise llamas for their wool, they are most commonly raised because they are believed to protect sheep and goat herds from predators. In reality, however, the only protection llamas provide is in the form of alarm, as they are more likely to be spooked by potential threats than the sheep and goats they are supposed to be protecting.
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This page was last updated on 08/13/2018.