Lost Creek Ranger Soopaka
ILR # 168669
female b. 12-18-96 ... d. 12-13-00
Soo's specialty was rookie llama handlers, even from an early age. She was 44.5" and around 280 lbs.
Soo was one of those llamas who is "right up there with you" on the lead, an absolute "must" for any serious packer. She had a sound mind and a enviably perfect classic coat as well.
Soo died in a tragic accident in our barn. During the summer, Soo would nose under the feeder boards for hay scraps. She and the others never got more than their muzzles underneath, and when we started feeding hay twice daily when the pasture gave out, there was commonly a little hay left over in the feeder and we never saw them nosing under the boards again. We viewed Soo's behavior only as a part-time annoyance.
There was still hay in the feeder that Wednesday afternoon, but for some reason, Soo ignored what was readily available and instead managed somehow to tightly wedge her head under the feeder boards and choke herself. Mercifully, she died quickly, with her booty of hay still in her mouth.
Needless to say, had we anticipated potential for injury from what we believed to be a 3" gap between the floor and the boards (or if we had realized the gap had been enlarged to 5" in some places), we would have done something about it right away. You can bet that we blocked the gaps off that evening, but unfortunately, our lesson came at the expense of Soo's life.
There are countless farms where llamas are kept in conditions ranging from merely "traditionally recognized as unsafe" to "downright junkheaps." Gwen has always been conscientious (OK, downright anal) about gaps in fencing and structures (both natural and man-made) that feet, legs, heads, or necks might become trapped in or that might merely cause injury.
We now know that a gap of five inches at the bottoms of rigid gates, fences, and the like IS a potential danger to an adult llama — particularly for those llamas who can't be satisfied with what's on their own side — and that a smaller gap can be enlarged gradually to become dangerous (as happened here).
Please don't let another senseless tragedy happen — check your own farm for hazards, including gaps under any rigid objects where llamas might be tempted to stick their noses.
"Soopaka" is from a combination of Chinook jargon and South American Quechua, and literally means "red hair." Ranger Soo was named for Ranger Sue Baker, the USFS coordinator for our volunteer trail work crews. Like Ranger Sue, Soo was cheery and full of energy.