"Llamas for use as pack animals were domesticated by the South American peoples in the Andes Mountains over 6,000 years ago. It was the Inca Civilization that uses these "ships of the Andes" for commerce, defense, agriculture, and the textile industry. As Spain conquered the South American peoples, gold and silver mines used the llamas by the thousands to plunder the wealth. Even today, the Andes Mountains are a challenge to cars, trucks, and horses. It is still the llama that can travel in the high altitudes and the harsh environment, and work.Regards to all. S&W R.I.P.
North Americans began to realize the power of this animal as a pack animal in the 1960's in the Rocky Mountains. Since then, a business of 4-day treks for pleasure, hunting, or fishing has grown popular. Many government department like Fish and Game, the Forest Service, and Surveying have continually used the llama for its low maintenance and agile climbing ability. Presently, llama trekking is offered in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as the recent expansion into the Northeast and the Carolinas.
The features that best suit the llamas to the mountains are:
- The ability for low impact on the environment because of their soft padded, two-toed feet. This cushions the impact and distributes the weight between 4 feet and 8 toes, leaving little or no imprint on the ground. This doesn't harm the mountain vegetation or dig a trail like a hoof will.
- The ability to exist on little food. Being a modified ruminant (3 stomach chambers), the llama maximizes the nutrition of the eaten material by cud chewing.
- The ability to require water once a day. Actually, dew or plants and drinking water or eating snow will sustain the llama. The llama has water conservation in its biology. Other pack animals require water sustenance every 4 hours while working.
- The ability to climb, like a mountain goat, with agility and grace. Powerful back legs power the 400-pound animal in leaps up difficult terrain. Twelve to sixteen miles a day can be achieved in moderate terrain.
The structure of the llama requires the saddle,panniers, halter, and leads to be designed for their size, NOT like other pack animals. Their backbone is not supported by muscle and there is no collar bone at the shoulder so the weight is equally distributed on each side in the panniers (packs) supported by a saddle designed in a pyramid style. There are hard or soft pack designs and they can be purchased through many western manufacturers.
Here in the United States we teach our llamas to follow us. The lead line is attached to the halter (minus a bit because no top teeth in the front) and held by the hiker. Thus llama trekking is an exercise sport. Hikers still walk and climb while the llamas carry the load. Your back pack is left behind - on a llama. Usually, 60-80 pounds per llama that is in good condition for a 5-mile to 6-mile mountain hike is not unusual. One person can string llamas together in a line and easily manage three packed llamas to a camp site.
Spring training is a very important conditioning time. Road work toughens the feet, muscles, and builds up the endurance needed by the hiker and llama for the mountains. Each llama depending on age and experience will have different abilities. The straight legs, balanced body, and willingness to work are qualities that all athletic llamas have but experience is the best teacher...."