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Guidelines for spending time
with young llamas
I've heard that handling young llamas makes them crazy — is that true?
Based on an incredible amount of misinformation and lack of understanding aggressive behavior in llamas (not to mention about llamas in general), some recommend a "play it safe" policy by avoiding handling crias or by minimizing contact when handling is absolutely necessary (such as in bottle feeding a sick cria or one who has lost it's mother). This does prevent llamas from becoming comfortable with us during the critical months when they divide their world into llamas, dangerous not-llamas and not-dangerous not-llamas. It does not, however, prevent all kinds of problems. Later handling (and the llama's individual inherited tendencies) can still result in aggression directed at humans.
There's no doubt that cria handling (or not handling) has historically received the most comment and controversy. Although correct socialization for unweaned crias is certainly very important, an even more crucial age is from 9 to 16 months of age. We have found that even with crias who have not been handled much prior to this point, incorrect socialization during this time — especially coupled with the wrong dispositional tendencies — results in the llama making the rules and progressing swiftly to levels of misdirected territorial aggression similar to those generally associated with improperly handled crias. During this phase (9-16 months), they begin to start testing just what they can do with the world and what the world can do for them. They start looking for ways to put their boredom to use. And . . . the 'ol hormones start kicking in, for some llamas, sooner and/or more strongly than for others.