This article was the 32nd in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in June 2005.
In my District I Report I mention the wanton attack, thought to be by juveniles, on a llama, Ginger, in North Anson, Maine. While the authorities have strong suspicions as to who attacked the llama, proving those suspicions will be difficult. As upset as I am that this attack took place, I am even more upset that some of the classmates of the suspects appear to be viewing the suspects as “heroes”.
The attack was vicious and no living creature should die in this manner. In the wild most predators will kill their prey as quickly as possible. This llama was grievously wounded and then left to die a slow and painful death. I can only wonder why we have become so insensitive to the pain and suffering of living things attacked in this manner. Also of concern, is that individuals who are capable of this type of brutality can and do graduate to attacking fellow humans.
Many of us who are involved in lama husbandry view our roles as guardians more than as owners. We have developed a symbiotic relationship with our lamas, where both benefit from the relationship. Our contributions to (and benefits from) this relationship far exceed any monetary value involved.
Five days ago we were blessed with the birth of Padme. She arrived after a gestation period of 336 days and exhibited signs of prematurity (floppy ear, descended pasterns, occasional goose stepping). Five hours after her birth she still not nursed and it was apparent that her energy level was failing. Fortunately, we had a bottle of frozen cow colostrum available. We gave her a small amount, together with some of her mother’s colostrum. Our concern at that juncture was not so much as to get colostrum into her but to get some sugars into her to revive her energy level. It worked like a charm, she started nursing and we went to bed reasonably confident that she would survive the night. She has proved to be a rather independent cria and regularly gives her mother fits when she does not follow her mother’s lead. I look back at the effort we expended to make sure she had a start in life and compare it with the wanton taking of Ginger’s life and find it very hard to reconcile the difference. And then I think of those who look upon the perpetrators as heroes.
What can we do to combat this insensitivity to cruelty? We have distanced ourselves from nature and living things as we have moved from being an agricultural society to an industrial society and then on to an information technology society. I suspect that we will always have in our society individuals with cruel streaks. But we can work to reduce the number of individuals who look up to them with some sort of perverted hero-worship. As lama owners we are in a unique position to demonstrate to others our love for our animals, whether it is at our farms, our schools or at fairs and other gatherings. People are naturally drawn to lamas. We should take the opportunity to impress upon them and their children the wonderful relationship that exists between us and our animals.
Late last fall an individual who was working on some barn repairs for us told me that we needed to replace the footings under the posts of our very old post and beam barn. I asked him how he would accomplish this repair. His response left me feeling very uncomfortable and I sought a second opinion from a carpenter/builder for whom I had a lot trust and respect. He quickly looked at the situation, told me what he would do but suggested that we wait for spring to take a closer look. Ultimately it was found that we needed a very modest amount of work and that the beams and footings were in good shape. Getting this second opinion saved us from some significant expense and possibly some risk to the barn.
Musing on this situation afterwards I noted that I had the distinct advantage of knowing someone with expertise in the particular area. A phone call from a new llama owner last week reminded me that we are not always in the position of knowing the validity of the information we receive and that receipt of conflicting opinions can be quite distressful. In this instance the owner’s first-born cria would not nurse from his mother but would readily take goat’s milk from a syringe. The owner was taking pains to be very business-like about feeding the cria. Because of her concern about the cria she made a number of calls for advice. The cria is male and many of the responses the owner received were about Berserk Male Syndrome, also known as Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (ABS). The advice she received from those concerned about ABS ranged from “do you want me to take the cria out back and shoot it for you” to “you must have the cria gelded at 6 months”. The owner asked me why there was so much concern about ABS by these individuals when none of them had experienced it first hand. I will be sending the owner an article by John Mallon and an application form for membership in GALA.
I do not wish to downplay the seriousness of ABS. Last year I had advised an individual who had acquired a llama with severe ABS to euthanize the llama. The llama presented a clear and present danger to all concerned, including itself. My issue in this instance is not ABS llamas but the advice we pass onto others. As lama owners we will be asked for advice by others. When giving advice we should be careful to give it only when we are reasonably confident that we have the requisite knowledge. If the situation requires giving of immediate advice when we are not comfortable with our level of knowledge, then we should disclose such. Which leads me to my penultimate point in this column – knowledge evolves and much has changed over the years about the care of lamas – when was the last time you attended a GALA Conference – is your information up-to-date.
My last observation is that, as lama owners, we will all receive much information and advice … some of it conflicting. Recognize that knowledge is evolving, appreciate the information that has been given to you, and then take that which works for you.