Leo and Harry live in Kingston in a peaceful grassy field within the pleasant countryside. They are Llamas, beautiful exotic animals brought to their new home in the Nailbourne Valley to protect a field of chickens from foxes; a job at which they are particularly good apparently. They were bred here in England, so they are used to our wet climate, but their ancestors lived far away across the South Atlantic.
Early European explorers who travelled into South America saw the natives working with Llamas and assumed them to be relatives of the sheep, but in fact Llamas are domesticated members of the camel family and along with the alpaca are thought to be descended from the wild guanaco. Although generally found in the High Andes regions of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, ancient evidence has been found of Llamas up in Central America and in the Rocky Mountains in North America.
Although Llamas are often confused with the alpacas there are clear differences between the two animals. Having been bred as pack carriers for the steep mountain passes of the Andes, Llamas are much larger than alpacas and have a coarse fleece over softer wool underneath. They are at least as strong and capable as horses and are more agile on mountain trails. Alpacas were bred primarily for wool and have a much finer fleece which actually produces more usable fibre despite their smaller size.
Llamas are generally very tolerant, gentle, highly social herd animals and although they have gained something of a reputation for spitting, unlike our national footballers they generally only do this when threatened and rarely spit at humans. They tend to be quite quiet animals, but they make humming ‘hmmmmm’ sounds between themselves and have a shrill alarm call if a predator is about.
It is notable that an internet search for western poetry or literature about the Llama tends to reveal only silly poems or children’s rhymes which ridicule this wonderful animal. One is tempted to conclude that this says more about the old world’s ignorance of other cultures than it does about the Llama itself.
Incidentally, spelling Llama can be confusing; the animal’s genus is spelt lama, the animal itself is llama, and the priest is a Lama.