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Problematic behavior in llamas
and misdirected territorial aggression
Misdirected territorial aggression
Territorial males typically direct their aggression toward other male llamas, but their impulse is not really confined to males of their own species. The impulse is actually to drive out anything that makes them uncomfortable. When this impulse is directed at dogs and coyotes and other predators, we generally think it's wonderful. But when llamas are uncomfortable with us and attempt to resolve their discomfort by driving humans out of their perceived territory, we understandably get upset.
Sometimes the discomfort of humans is learned, but more often, these llamas' territorial impulse is simply misdirected at humans and other beings who do not pose any actual threat. In a wild guanaco, this would generally go unnoticed; in a domestic llama, this trait is unacceptable for herd and caretaker safety.
Why do these llamas' instincts get out of hand? There appears to be several causes. In some llamas, excessive testosterone (or too-abundant or too-sensitive testosterone receptors) clouds judgement and makes the llama attack anything and everything. Humans just happen to be included in "everything." In others, a heightened fear response combined with a tendency to respond to fear with aggression translates to aggression toward anything that makes the llama nervous. In some cases, humans are included in "anything that makes the llama nervous."
Is misdirected or heightened territorial aggression a mishandling problem? Yes and no. Yes, inappropriate and inept handling (and poor management choices) can definitely exacerbate these llamas' behavior. But the inherited abnormality — the abnormal aggressive and territorial tendencies — must first be present for that aggression to be directed at anything, let alone misdirected at human caretakers!