My Take Tuesday: The Llama que se llama Lloyd
It was a typical Sunday afternoon; I was taking advantage of the quiet afternoon by sitting down on the couch. The phone startled me just as I was getting to the good part of one of my favorite movies.
I hit pause as I picked up my cell phone and gave my usual salutation, “Hello, this is Dr. Bott.”
“Hey Doc! I need you to come check on my llama. He’s gone absolutely berserk!”
I could hear panic in her voice as she continued, “He just ate my blouse from the clothesline.
Yesterday, he spit right in my eye. He keeps biting Susie and Dolly, thems my other llamas, and he keeps attacking anyone that enters his pen!”
The potent potion of human personality makes taking calls like this very unpredictable, and my experience has shown that some of the most colorful of souls happen to also have llamas.
She continued, “I tried using lavender oil to calm him, but he bit my finger!”
“Oh my!” I replied.
Over time, the term “berserk” has been used rather freely to describe llamas or alpacas that deviate from the expected behavioral norm.
I could tell this client was truly terrified of the llama and needed immediate assistance.
My next questions were precise, “Is your llama male?”
She replied, “Ya’ darn tootin’ he is.”
I quickly followed up with, “Is he castrated?”
“No, we ain’t got around to it.”
In my experience, nothing will calm a crazy macho llamoid like castration. When possible, castration should be performed before the male attains puberty.
As I drove south on I-15, I reviewed in my mind the condition known as berserk llama syndrome or berserk male syndrome (as it is more pronounced in males). It is a psychological condition suffered by human-raised llamas and alpacas that can cause them to exhibit dangerously aggressive behavior towards humans. The term has been overused, however, and is sometimes inappropriately applied to llamas with aggressive personalities that are not truly “berserk”. The condition is a result of the llama imprinting on its human handlers to such a degree that it considers them to be fellow llamas. Imprinting can be caused by bottle feeding and by isolation from other llamas.
Male llamas suffering from this condition become dangerous when this behavior is directed toward humans. This behavior can be so aggressive that these males sometimes have to be euthanized.
As I turned down the road onto the farm, a large white llama could be seen running the perimeter of the pen. His vocalization, a high shrill mixed with a gurgling, guttural sound, pierced the solitude in the cab of my pickup. It was immediately obvious, that Lloyd the Llama was very upset.
Lloyd had distinctively long hair, known as fiber in llamas and alpacas, around his face. If it weren’t for his long banana shaped ears, he could easily be confused for an alpaca.
Llamas are pseudo-ruminants – they chew their cud similar to cattle. The spit that llamas produce is actually ingesta from their first stomach compartment. This foul-smelling stuff is very unpleasant. Because of my previous llama adventures, I know that it tastes horrible, and it stings when it hits your skin or eyes.
As I approached the fence to meet Mrs. Jones, I heard the unmistakable ‘Pffffffffft” that accompanies a huge ball of llama spit. Before I could react, the large gob of green nastiness spattered across my face.
Imprecations are sure to follow something like this, even from the calmest of veterinarians.
“We need to sedate Lloyd,” I explained to Mrs. Jones, “We should look at his teeth and also castrate him while he is asleep.”
Mrs. Jones had no problem with my proposed battle plan. As she stated, “Maybe he will calm down if we chop his balls off!”
For some reason, I always have giggled when a grown up speaks like this. I smiled as I filled my syringe with the Camelid Cocktail of Anesthesia.
Administering an intramuscular injection on Lloyd proved to be no easy task. Both Mrs. Jones and I received another round of llama spit and multiple kicks from his agile hind legs.
Soon Lloyd sat down and peacefully fell asleep.
As I opened his mouth, I noticed the nidus of his outbursts. His premolars, known in this species as fighting teeth, were actually growing into the sensitive skin inside his cheek.
The fix was simple, the fighting teeth were removed. As per Mrs. Jones request, he was also castrated.
Lloyd woke up a new llama. He calmly allowed Mrs. Jones to lead him back into his pen.
“That’s my boy!” She exclaimed as Lloyd rubbed his face gently on her check.
It was no short of a miracle. Lloyd wasn’t berserk, he was simply in pain.
My job as a veterinarian would be so much easier if I could have the luxury of simply asking, “Where does it hurt?”
Even though animals can’t talk, they certainly can communicate with us if we are willing and observant enough to listen.
I will never forget this important lesson that I learned from Lloyd the Llama.
And That is My Take!
N. Isaac Bott, DVM