Llamas’ ways charming tourists
to strangers and strange environment.’’
What follows as we head off from the i- Site carpark is the ‘‘funny five minutes’’ – while the animals quickly adjust to being off and walking, wearing a bridle and being led by a stranger.
‘‘In some ways it’s a stupid place to take them, to the centre of town, but it’s obviously good from a human point of view because of the scenery.’’
He says it took about 15 trips to get the animals used to the environment and the idea of walking the beachfront next to a swelling and noisy ocean.
Stopping for a photo opportunity near the mouth of Lyell Creek (where else will you photograph llamas on a beach?) presents another challenge for the llamas.
‘‘We are all used to stopping for a photo session, but all the llama are thinking that there must be a predator, so they can get quite alarmed – that’s why they will make that noise.
Their ‘‘call’’ is a sort of groan, perhaps reminiscent of a camel’s, and if really alarmed they might break into a high-pitched wail, like that of an ‘‘ee-awing’’ donkey.
But there are no calls of alarm on our trip, as we manage to avoid all wolves and snakes. But not a few inquisitive tourists.
Some tourists ask what the animal is called, some get very close to take a photo, and one bloke took to blowing on the llama’s face.
‘‘It took a few trips before they would relax. They have a nervous disposition and are constantly alert. They saw the water as an animal, as a potential predator.
‘‘But as a herd animal they will happily follow the leader,’’ he says. ‘‘But now they know us and trust it’s OK,’’ he said.
It seems one llama will always want to lead, and in this case, it seems there was a bit of competition between Hero and Legend.
‘‘ Hero is the alpha male, especially in the paddock. If a female turned up, she would be his to claim, but on treks he seems quite happy to let Pete or Legend take the lead.’’
Of course, a human is actually doing the leading, holding on to the rope. If you’ve never ridden a horse it’s always been hard to tell who’s in charge.
In this case my llama, Legend, is keen to lead off, past the introduced species of trees they might be tempted to munch, but shouldn’t.
‘‘The path we take is important
this too,’’ says Cole. ‘‘It’s quite varied with grass and paths, boardwalks and along the beach. They’re not like donkeys. If we just took the same route every time and it was straight and boring they’d just sit down and say ‘ no, I’m not going there.’ Like any intelligent animal they can be stubborn.’’
And then there’s poop tax. Cole diligently collects any ‘‘deposits’’ the animals make, and jokingly charges the handler a pint of beer for every extra poop their animal does.
‘‘The first one is free. Any more tops up my beer fund. But it does make very good manure.’’
Two of the leading males, Hero and Pete, competed with distinction at the Canterbury A&P Show Christchurch in November.
Llama compete in four different categories, including looks (conformation) and working llama – carrying saddle bags across and through and around obstacles while being led.
‘‘ We’re not really into the ‘prettiest llama’ thing, ours are for working. But Hero came third in the ‘pretty show’, says Cole.
‘‘Pete and Hero also competed in all the experienced ‘ open’ performance classes.’’
One of the tests is ‘‘ public relations’’, to see how they react to things like pushchairs and the opening of an umbrella.
In the ‘‘ Open packing’’ class, Hero came first and Pete third, being judged on their navigation of trees and poles, over and around challenges and obstacles.
Hero was crowned the Supreme Champion Performance Llama, having won all three of the experienced open class categories.
Llama Champion: Kevin Cole of Kaikoura Farm Park with Pete, left, and Hero.