Lla­mas’ ways charm­ing tourists

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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.

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