As you pass the field where the llamas live at Mudchute, stop for a moment and watch them. They look so calm, elegant and proud. Try humming softly to yourself and you may see their beautiful long ears swivel around like radar dishes until they catch your sound and pinpoint where you are.
Like all animals that have a language, a communication system that we have managed to understand a little bit of. We know that they signal to each other by wiggling their ears and waggle their tails like semaphore flags.
Their young are called crias – prenounced KREEuh- which is Spanish for ‘baby’ and they chat to them by making humming sounds.
To defend their young, they will stamp and kick out at any creatures trying to attack them. In fact, they are superb nannies and guard creatures and at Mudchute and where ever else they are kept, they will put in the same fields as ewes and lambs, goats and kids to protect them.
They are very clever and can tell a friendly dog from a predictor by sight.
If they get angry or frightened they make a sound like “Mwa’. They are not bitey creatures They have no upper teeth, so that would be difficult but when they are annoyed Or fight with each other, they will spit lots and lots of stomach contents over great distances or stick out their tongues or neck wrestle.
Llamas evolved on the plains of North America 40 million years ago.
Think about that as you look at these incredible animals. You are looking at a creature that has spent 40 million years evolving. Around 3 million years ago, their ancestors relocated to the highlands of South America.
Humans have been living with them for around 6000 years, mostly because we figured out that they are really good at carrying heavy loads for long journeys over rocky paths because they can grip so well with their hooved feet.
They can carry about 25% of their own body weight, but if a human decides to overload them they will refuse to move or lie down until their burden is reduced. This is a really clear way to communicate their thoughts and feelings to humans.
There are other reasons why humans want to live alongside llamas. They have soft undercoat which is light and warm and water repellent that can be worked to knit or weave incredible comfortable garments. Their thicker outer coat is coarser but can be used for making ropes and rugs.
They are also great companions for people because they are vegetarian, so their poo doesn’t smell much and when it is dried out it can be used as fuel for fires.
What noble beasts.