lost creek llamas


What's new

About us
Statement of ethics

Llama care, management and resources


Packing with llamas

Driving llamas in harness

Showing llamas

Fiber from llamas
Llamas as guardians

Rescue and rehabilitation

Classic performance llamas

Our llama family
Just for fun
Cria photos

Training consultation
Performance llama analysis

Research Projects

Other llama sites






If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...























If you don't rescue ...

Kunta's story

Kunta was formerly just a black llama with no name. He lived at a sort of roadside petting zoo behind a restaurant and bar in Wisconsin with a number of other animals -- but no llamas. He had been traded to the establishment's owners when he was a weanling. By the time Kunta was about seven or eight years old, he had become unpredictably violent and had bitten two people severely, sending one to the emergency room for 18 stitches. Kunta had also been on the receiving end of abuse, resulting in one hopelessly damaged and dangling ear and abnormal behavior.

The owners were determined to sell their llama for $200, and were even offering to sell him to families with small children (without disclosure, of course!). In late summer of 1996, a pair of concerned local llama owners raised money to purchase Kunta (primarily through internet contacts and a now-defunct alpaca-llama listserver); built a strong holding pen exclusively for him (he spat and charged the fence violently while staying there); vetted, dewormed, and treated him for ringworm; and arranged for transportation (donated!) from Wisconsin to Oregon, which came to pass six weeks later.

In the interim, countless names were suggested for the black llama by subscribers to the alpaca-llama listserver. Some were silly, some overly romantic, some very plain. Worse still, some were not names, but labels. The most frequent suggestion was "Al," for "alpaca-llama," (the listserver), which we felt was too plain--even "dorky." We knew from past experience that the perception of an animal's name can subconsiously color the handlers' and visitors' attitudes toward the animal. We wanted any associations to be positive. The "halfway house" began calling him "Buddy." "Kunta" occured to Gwen as an appropriate name for a llama who needed to be freed from slavery. In the end, all were combined, after a fashion: AL's Buddy Kunta. (We later had to drop "AL's" and just use "Buddy Kunta" because AL turned out to be a herd identifier already reserved with the International Lama Registry.)

Because the hauler broke down enroute, we were unable to rendezvous with Kunta in Washington as expected. He was then delivered to our door several days later with only a few hours notice. Fortunately, one of us was at home!

Kunta was very alert that night after his arrival, and we were happy to find that he did not extend his inexplicable hatred of some men to Jim. He went over to Jim and sniffed noses over the stall barrier, showing no aggression (snorting) or defensiveness (clucking) whatsoever. Kunta did seem really interested in sniffing Jim's hands, a common behavior for llamas who have been hand-fed.

The next day, we took Kunta out to what passes for our front yard for some initial evaluation and assessment. Aggression in problem llamas often does not surface until the llama has had several days or weeks to decide that he's now acquired a new territory, and we wanted to take full advantage of the situation to observe what might later prove to be "background" behavioral tendencies. We were both very encouraged by what we saw, particularly by how Kunta dealt with minor behavioral correctional comments from us.

We also proceeded with routine structural measurements. Kunta turned up about 44" at the withers (hard to tell for certain with the camel-fat hump) and a portly 340 pounds (which showed in his gait). After taking Kunta's skeletal type and muscling into account, we estimated his ideal weight to be around 290 lbs, give or take a few.

The next order of business was to check the status of his fighting teeth, and yep, he sure had a set. They were plenty long, sharp, and dangerous, though beginning to show some wear (as would be expected for an eight-year-old). This earned Kunta an instant ticket to a personal dentistry session. He was really good about walking in the chute and being strapped in. What he didn't like was the usual -- having his lips peeled back. Gwen then explained to Kunta (after the first tooth went flying -- should have thought about it before, but who's perfect?) that we were cutting his six sharp teeth off so humans would stop being afraid of him. After that, he was the most cooperative llama we've ever cut teeth on. It was still unnerving for him, but he never so much as gurgled nor did he make any moves toward us afterwards. It would have been nice to wait until his castration and do it under sedation for his emotional wellbeing, but the not-so-secure stalling arrangements (brought on by his abrupt arrival) made immediate removal in the restraining chute necessary for everyone's safety.

Two days later, we contacted a professional telepathic animal communicator in Amboy, WA because Gwen did not want to subject Kunta to dealing with any of our ineptitudes, shortcomings, and ongoing learning curve in this area. We received a call back the following evening and, based on the information she gave, we then adjusted our tentative plans accordingly.

The big vet visit was two days later. As with most older males, the castration was not so easy or simple, but the vet in charge of that end persisted in finding all the bleeders and tying them off to be sure that we wouldn't have to add insult to injury in the form of preventable aftercare. Kunta's ear was so badly damaged that there was no hope of reconstructing it, so we all agreed that it would be best to remove the flopping (and sensitive) leftovers. Inspection revealed that the damaged tissue grew right over the ear canal so that he is essentially deaf on that side. Reconstructing the ear canal would have been tricky and carried the risk of further damage or infection, so we left it alone and only removed the loose tissue. Kunta still looks ... er ... unique, but he is no longer bothered by flys, potential fungal infestation, or uncontrolled flopping anymore.

After his castration, Kunta's incision was swollen for over a week -- normal, in our experience, for males castrated after maturity. Two weeks after his arrival, the swelling was nearly gone and his ear continued to look good. We felt that it was time to turn him out into his temporary home -- a half-acre paddock with free access to an adjoining stall (because of continued good behavior, we never did need to move Kunta to the "secure" stall where he was originally slated to be kept, and where we normally house questionable sorts with rap sheets like his).

We chose a dieting companion, Spiritus (a 12-year-old gelding with an easy-going disposition who also won't take any guff from anybody), for Kunta and turned them out together with supervision. Basically, a whole lot of nothing ensued. Spiritus looked in all the good food spots, and Kunta walked the fenceline, met the youngsters on the other side of the fence, ran a bit (it was 'way too wet to roll), and then chowed down on the green grass.

The next week, we saw the first inklings of inappropriate behavior. Kunta did not want to move on two occasions, and spat (though not at us). With gentle insistance, he did move away. Another time, Kunta was overly intrigued by removal of some concrete forms and pressed too close, apparently unaware of how this was perceived (Gwen was ready to jump up and spit voluminously if Kunta had even thought about orgling, but apparently that wasn't what he had in mind). Our strategy at the time was mild correction or changing the situation to prevent such behavior initially, and then discussing how best to proceed such that the behavior would actually be terminated. Harsh correction is inappropriate for Kunta; on the other hand, simply avoiding the problem(s) on a regular basis is not a viable long-term solution, nor is it rehab.

Kunta's other major initial test was to meet our housesitter, Anne, who also comes to visit her llama, Bandit. At this point in Kunta's rehabilitation, we did not bring anyone into Kunta's space, but rather allowed him to see people over the fence and instructed them under no circumstances to reach out to pet him. This was to allow Kunta a chance to perceive people as respectful and interactive rather than as self-absorbed insensitives expecting self-gratification, which he already experienced (and disliked) in his former "petting zoo" setting. Kunta was very "sniffy" with Anne, but polite, as he was with us the first couple of days after his arrival. No clicking, posturing, snorting. Of course, Anne is hardly a middle-aged, heavy-set bald man (the physical type of Kunta's former abusers) but each positive step bode well for building the foundation to eventually teach Kunta to control his dangerous defensive impulses.

By December, Kunta had reduced to 300 pounds and looked quite a bit better. We also took him on his first walk -- about two miles on the road with another llama. Gwen handled Kunta, using only a standard halter and lead, and he behaved admirably. A whole new world was opened up for Kunta, and he really liked it a lot. He asked lots of questions about objects, but never spooked at them or at cars, dogs, cattle, horses -- you name it. He enjoyed walking fast and stretching his legs. It was clear that this taste of quasi-freedom made him happy. Back at home, his demeanor changed temporarily and it was unfortunate that more walks were not immediately forthcoming.

Spiritus turned out to be a poor choice as Kunta's roomie. Kunta simply would not assert himself, and this allowed Spiritus to dominate food and shelter -- although we weren't too sure that Kunta even liked shelter. We finally turned Spiritus out and brought in JJ, who can take care of himself, but is not particularly assertive. This proved helpful for Kunta, and he began to dare to claim haypiles of his own, even though he would not defend them if challenged. Initially, Kunta continued to insist that he did not like JJ either and didn't want to be near him, but gradually, the space between them at night diminished until they were often ten feet apart. Finally, we both noticed that Kunta's ear was now up far more than it was down. He was no longer feeling threatened by every other herbivore on the planet.

A second walk was almost as fun for Kunta, but his lack of training began to show. Kunta liked to go so much that he would forge ahead, particularly if he was the rear llama, and mild correction didn't get the message across. Rather than fight him so early in his rehabilitation, we tried instead to identify the situations in which he was better behaved and stuck to those for the time being.

Also on this walk, an important and unexpected element appeared, walking toward us on our side of the road: a heavy-set, middle-aged bald man. Kunta spotted him first and became increasingly agitated. He tried desperately to hide behind Gwen, but also felt the need to keep absolute tabs on this fellow's whereabouts. Gwen was about to help Kunta do a controlled crash into the ditch when the bald man moved to the other side of the road. Kunta's initial relief was obvious, but he also wanted to put a lot of distance between him and that bald man as quickly as possible. Near the end of the walk, we ran into a friend, Larry -- a taller, balding man with a beard. Kunta was not as upset, but clearly didn't want to stand around while we conversed, so we moved along shortly.

Kunta's third walk, with Anne and Bandit, started out about the same as walk number two, except that Bandit and Anne like to mosey. Kunta didn't want to slow down, but was quite good about stopping and waiting every now and then until Anne and Bandit caught up. We chose a slightly different route and suddenly, almost a mile from home, everything changed.

Anne had taken this route on her last walk with Bandit, Spiritus, and some friends. She had been surprised that in a particular spot, Spiritus suddenly started walking very fast (yes, Spiritus-the-slug, walking fast!!!), and Bandit was agitated. There didn't seem to be anything unusual about the area, although she'd noted that Bandit had been mildly uncomfortable there in the past. When Gwen and Kunta reached the spot, Kunta wanted to charge ahead and certainly didn't want to wait for Bandit. Kunta soon began spitting and plunging, and when corrected, he began nyerking (alarm calling), which is consistent with fear rather than frustration or anger. Kunta became a two-handed project, and after another hundred yards, it became clear that going home was the thing to do.

All the way home, Kunta spat, alarmed, and plunged. Several times he reared up; several other times he tried to turn around and looked like he possibly had biting on his mind. It did not seem to matter whether Bandit was in front or behind, but Bandit wanted to go in front and get away from Kunta and That Place, so Anne happily obliged him. A quarter-mile from home, Kunta changed tactics to direct attempts to spit on Gwen, who spat back. After six exchanges, Kunta quit spitting, but began screaming instead -- he was mad now. But after a short while, he changed back to alarms.

Getting Kunta back to his pasture was a two-person job -- one to hold Kunta, and one to operate gates. Anticipating the worst, Gwen put Kunta on one side of a dividing fence, closed the gate, and with Anne standing at the ready, removed Kunta's halter. Kunta simply walked away. WHEW. Kunta's pasture behavior also did not change -- toward Jim or Gwen. Whatever "bad spirits" triggered the problem apparently did not reside in Kunta himself. Rehab certainly has its puzzles and its dangers. We never were able to solve that particular puzzle.

When we were alerted to ten young and basically healthy llamas, bound for slaughter in our area, we of course took steps to acquire them for the fledgling LANA Lama Lifeline, but the only place we could put them was in the paddock Kunta was using. Despite Kunta's disturbing and largely inexplicable behavior on his recent walk, we decided to try him in the adjacent pasture with Waldo and our young geldings and turn JJ back out in the big pasture. The only other option was to stall Kunta, and we hoped we wouldn't have to resort to that.

At first, Kunta didn't want to go anywhere, not in a new pasture, not nothing. Then he thought, he'd go sniff Jack, and that, of course, was the signal for Strider to sniff HIS rear and chase him. Kunta ran to the far fenceline -- where the females were. It turned out that he was not interested in them (good!). Bandit was nearby, ran over (yes, Bandit running!), stuck his whole neck and head under the top rail, and sniffed Kunta's neck from the bottom up.

Kunta seemed to be getting along OK, so we left him in Waldo's pasture. The next day, we brought the ten rescued llamas home and -- after photos, weighing, measuring, deworming, defanging, and toenail trimming -- took them one by one into the paddock. Kunta clicked and postured, and was mighty interested in our friend and fellow rescuer, Barb Kirchner, whom he had met before, and we were keeping a sharp eye on him...just in case.

The following day, Kunta had changed. He was much more at home, and -- surprise, surprise -- he was freely using the shelter. He joined the other llamas following Jim around with the hay instead of waiting stiffly in one spot. He was more active and had a distinctly happier expression. He came to the gate to see us, but stopped posturing and clicking altogether. Needless to say, we were relieved and very much encouraged -- for the time being.

Kunta had not been notably difficult (except for his the last walk) since his arrival, and in fact it was difficult to convince a few know-it-all visitors that Kunta was not normal and in fact did require our rehabilitation skills. Come spring, however, latent problems boiled to the surface. Kunta became increasingly more possessive, particularly of the gates and the manure pile. Residual hormones, summoned by spring, had a grip on him. This meant that scooping poop became a two-person job (one guarding). This also resulted in Gwen getting "treed" in the hawthorns early one morning when she went to check on Waldo and Kunta decided she wasn't allowed to leave the pasture. Enter the "Kunta stick."

The "Kunta stick" is a stout, hardwood axe handle, purchased especially for the situation. It's easy to hold, light enough to wield, but heavy and stout enough to serve as an effective defensive weapon. It could knock a llama unconsious, break bones, or kill. The idea was to not use it on Kunta unless a definite life-threatening situation arose in which retreat was simply not possible. By carrying this weapon, both of us could continue to freely and confidently enter the pasture and go about our business -- a very necessary move if Kunta's behavior was to be confronted and changed.

Not long afterwards, Kunta challenged Gwen as she was removing his manure from the shelter. Gwen thrashed the "Kunta stick" threateningly overhead and advanced. This would be the litmus test -- was Kunta truly and irretrievably aggressive, or could he be rehabbed? The answer was that Kunta did possess some basic common sense behind his anger, and after a series of advances, retreats, and renewed challenges, Kunta retired to scream his rage from behind the saftey of the shelter wall. The "Kunta stick" had never come closer than two feet from him at any time.

Additional challenges on both of us occurred over the next few months and were successfully fended off in the same manner. As spring turned into summer, the bad behaviors waned and by mid-summer, the "Kunta stick" was gathering dust in the tack room, which was just fine by us. By late summer and early fall, Anne and other friends of ours noted that Kunta's "eyes" had changed -- he no longer looked like a suspicious, crazed beast.

Indeed, Kunta had become comfortable with his life here, and with our role as caretakers. Kunta was able to accept effective correction. He also moved around us like a normal llama. Previously he tended to walk very close; now he kept a more normal distance. Kunta also used to stand his ground and become agitated or threatening when we walked up to him. Now he would wander away, and was ready to truly learn the meaning of "stand." Kunta's next lessons moved gradually to proper leading, foot handling, and loading in a vehicle, at which point we pronounced him "good enough." Our goal was to give Kunta basic skills so that he could then move on to a new home -- and so that he could hopefully finally find the "buddy" he has been looking for. His only other serious test occured in the spring of 1998, when we were able to verify that he no longer had diminished seasonal hormonal urges that might present problems.

Above: (from left) Waldo, Kunta, Jim, Strider, Jack, and Tommy

Update: October 2000

We continued our slow work with Kunta until we felt he would not be a threat at pasture and could be handled for basic care by others. By 1999, we agreed that Kunta's progress was adequate, and we set about finding him a buddy and a test situation prior to actual placement. At the end of 1999, Kunta and prospective buddy Fuzzy spent several months at a small pasture in a residential neighborhood (and with a middle-aged bald man!), and they passed with flying colors. With that final test behind him and his acceptance into Llama RescueNet's newly developed "Special Needs Placement Program," Kunta's swift placement seemed assured.

Unfortunately, after Kunta and Fuzzy returned to await placement, we noted that although the two had gotten on well together, they obviously were not pals. Their future apart was sealed several months later when, to everyone's dismay, Fuzzy slowly slipped into liver failure and was eventually euthanized.

We knew that Kunta needed a buddy before placement -- he would not be happy coming into an existing llama group, where he would be an outcast. Llama RescueNet had previously accepted a gelding with some handling issues (a tendency to bolt violently when spooked) and we finally deemed these problems could not be fully resolved, thus limiting his placement option to "llawmower." We tried Kunta and Country together on a lark, and in a few days they were choosing to spend time together.

Kunta and Country in their new home, October 2000


Kunta and Country's adoptive home is a pre-production vineyard where their only jobs are consuming vegetation (in a pasture away from the grapes!) and being looked at. We made sure that they would have the option of approaching humans or keeping their distance as they choose. By RescueNet policy, if for any reason they can no longer be cared for, both Kunta and Country will be accepted back into Llama RescueNet.

On his post-90-day visit, we were pleased to see how uncommonly relaxed Kunta was in his new situation. Kunta clearly likes being the dominant one of two llamas so that he doesn't have to be on the defensive all the time. Unlike some llamas, Kunta does not push his dominance -- it's enough for him to feel secure that he is not at risk of being harmed by his pasturemate.

But more pleasing, we saw a very special development: Kunta has finally found his long-awaited buddy in one of his adoptors. Kunta obviously has a great deal of affection for Allen, and we were suprised to see that he loves tactile attention from Allen in forms that he previously could not tolerate because of his fear.

It's extremely gratifying to us that, due to four years of our rehabilitation work, Kunta is now able to enjoy this friendship instead of having been euthanized or left to live out his life as part of a large herd at a "sanctuary," as some people advocate as the best (or even only) choice for llamas like him!

Special friends Kunta and Allen, October 2000


Although Kunta has not become a grand champion or done something heroic in human-defined terms, he has finally gained enough control over his prior abuse that he can live out his life in contentment instead of fear. Yes, we both put in a lot of time and effort, and we certainly took risks. But ultimately, we could not do it for Kunta without his help.

That's what it's all about -- giving a second chance to those who are willing to work at it.

Kunta is his own hero.

Postscript: Kunta died peacefully in his pasture of natural causes in early March, 2003.

Return to Llama rescue and rehabilitation

Return to Lost Creek Llamas home page