Are Llamas Intelligent?
This article was the 41st in a series
of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA
Newsletter. It was originally published in October 2006.
Intelligent: Having good understanding or a high
mental capacity; quick to comprehend, as persons or animals. Having the
faculty of reasoning and understanding. (Dictionary.com Unabridged.)
Are Llamas Intelligent?
This column reflects some of my observations of
Jeanne’s and my herd. Since we do not have alpacas, I have not included them
in this discourse. It is my personal opinion that if we did have alpacas, we
would find many, if not all, of the traits described herein.
I chose my topic for this Newsletter because of
three events (1 immediately past, 1 in the near future and 1 in the distant
- On August 12, 2006, it was reported
(Israel May Expand Ground Combat, Washington Post Foreign Service,
August 12, 2006) that an
entire train of llamas being used by the Israeli Army to transport munitions
across the border into Lebanon kushed and refused to move causing the
aborting of that particular expedition. In describing the incident in a
related article (Making a point, Haaretz.com, August 20, 2006) Yossi Sarid wrote “But the Israel Defense Forces’ planners
overlooked the llama’s intelligence and intuition; not surprisingly, the
animals refused to cross the border. All efforts to persuade or prod them,
whether with a small or big stick, proved futile.” I happen to have strong
feelings about a) the use of llamas in this fashion and b) prodding them
with a big stick, but those are other topics for another day.
- At about the time you receive this issue of the Newsletter, Jeanne and I
will be at the Fryeburg Fair where we will be spending most of our time
conversing with visitors to the Llama Barn at the Fair. Our objective in our
conversations is to educate the public about our four-footed friends. In a
typical conversation we will refer to our llamas as being highly intelligent
and having great curiosity.
- In our early days with our llamas there was an article in a now defunct
llama magazine in which the author took issue with those that believed
llamas were intelligent. The magazine has long since been discarded. Thus I
cannot relate the author’s reasons for taking her position, but I can
remember that they ran counter to my own observations. Clearly, the article
had some impact on me because it still occupies a niche in my memory.
When discussing whether a species is intelligent, we are confronted with a
set of rather subjective definitions. Thus we can anticipate significant
differences in the conclusions of those analyzing the intelligence of the
various species (including Homo sapiens). My personal conclusion is that
llamas are very intelligent and my reasoning is as follows:
- Llamas are adept at
- Llamas mourn the loss of another member of the herd. I have also been
struck by the ability of the herd to know when a member of the herd is
terminally ill or in serious trouble. By their presence they will comfort
the ailing member of the herd. I view the ability to understand the concepts
of terminal illness and death as signs of awareness of being.
- Their ability to sense illness in another is not limited to their own
species. Perhaps this is a result of non-verbal communication. It is very
moving when they react to health changes in their guardians and handlers.
- They also have a keen sense of whether or not a particular human being
loves animals. I suspect this is also a result of non-verbal communication.
I use this attribute of their behavior in qualifying a potential buyer.
- Some view the use of tools as an indication of intelligence. Llamas, like
dolphins (a species widely acknowledged as being intelligent), are not well
constructed for holding tools. However, llamas are very adept at using their
noses, lips and feet for purposes nature most likely did not originally intend. One of
Topaz, is particularly adept at opening latches. Another,
Summer, is quite adept at opening a ramp barrier by pulling it towards her
with her chin. Interestingly enough, if I have secured the barrier with a
bungee cord, she will not attempt to open it. Rather, she will kick it with
her feet to get my attention. She is the same llama who is able to con me
into opening the gate into her favorite pasture by giving me a “come hither”
look which is noticeable from several hundred feet away.
These are some of my observations that lead me to believe that llamas are
highly intelligent. What are your thoughts? Today might be a good day to sit
in your pasture(s) with your animals and ruminate on their intelligence.