Dangerous Behaviors in Llamas
by Alvin Bean
There has been much said, done and written about the terror of "Berserk Male Syndrome" or "Aberrant Behavior Syndrome" in llama circles. Yet no clear definition of either "syndrome", which should be a collection of symptoms, seems to exist in veterinary texts or llama care books. This would understandably be confusing to the person new to llamas, the veterinarian new to llamas, and even intimidating to experienced llama owners. Perhaps we should not be so concerned with the fact that llamas do indeed sometimes exhibit dangerous behaviors, but more amazed by the fact that there is only one documented case of a human being being killed, albeit indirectly, by a llama. People are killed by horses every year, and by dogs several times a year. Hand raised male deer are listed as "dangerous animals" in wildlife rehabilitation texts and human deaths are not unheard of from these animals.
So, in light of the previous, I would like to try and offer descriptions of several syndromes, as described by the observable behaviors, appropriate actions that owners might consider and veterinarians might recommend. I hope only that these syndromes might be helpful to all involved with llamas, perhaps spare human injuries, and perhaps save the lives of some animals who are mistakenly thought to be "incurably berserk".
The Untrained Llama
Untrained llamas are generally fearful of human contact and attempt to
escape from routine health maintenance and necessary management practices.
These llamas may display the following behaviors, or injure people in the
following ways if cornered or loosely restrained:
Although untrained llamas can cause injury to people, there are many excellent training videos, books and clinics available which may effectively solve the problems. Also, many times, local llama breeders and trainers are willing to give advice and help.
The Over-handled Llama
At a potentially more concerning level of aggression we might describe the llama showing early symptoms of a more serious problem. This would not be an animal that was simply untrained or mildly mishandled, or yet dangerous. This llama would most likely have some kind of history that would indicate further potential danger which has not yet erupted.
These llamas have some or all of the following history:
And/or exhibit the following behaviors:
Although these animals have not yet injured anyone, or even necessarily caused any discomfort for the owner, as they sexually mature the probability that they might misbehave causes concern based on lay experience and the recent survey research conducted by Ohio State University.
The instant that these animals mature to the point at which they attempt to assert their already tested dominance, they often frighten both new and experienced llama breeders, and are thought to be incurably "berserk" and euthanized. In our experience, these animals are easily trained after gelding, which seems to be the single most effective intervention, and is often by itself the only one necessary.
We do not have enough data at this point to say definitively that these llamas should be gelded or referred to professional trainers at a certain age. However, we can say anecdotally that gelding at 12-18 months seems to be an appropriate recommendation, although gelding at any age seems to be the single most important intervention that can be made.
Consultation with a trainer experienced in aggression is always recommended. Many trainers interested in aggression consult free of charge. (Please contact SELR's own Annie Higginbotham with any questions you may have and also see our Other Rescue Resources page .)
The Aggressive Llama
This llama is usually an "over-handled" llama who is intact (an un-gelded male), has often been bred, and has received no training or intervention. However, in our experience, we have seen llamas who had no prior history become aggressive later in life without obvious provocation except for management changes.
If people should enter the enclosure the llama may:
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