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Llamas are protective of smaller animals

I regularly drive by a large pasture with cows and calves, plus a single llama. Is the llama being used as a guard animal? Does it get lonely, or does it think it's part of the cow herd?

— Mary, Medford

The solo llama is most likely being used to guard the calves, although opinions differ on how effective llamas are at shooing away predators.

"Some folks are convinced that llamas are pretty aggressive and may ward off small predators," says Mark Vargas, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue District wildlife biologist. "Other people theorize llamas look strange, and predators will stay away because of their appearance."

Vargas, however, said he's gone out to investigate livestock kills where a llama was in the pasture. He's also seen cases where llamas were killed by predators.

Vargas says he doesn't know the mindset of the llama you see in the pasture.

"Whether it's lonely or not, I can't even guess," he says. "People don't like to be alone, and they think animals don't like to be alone."

Vargas noted animals such as cows prefer to be in herds, so perhaps the llama would prefer a llama herd.

Brian Kiesse, operations manager for Sanctuary One, takes care of llamas both at the sanctuary and at home.

He says the solo llama you see doesn't think it's a cow.

"It does not think it's part of the cow herd. Llamas are herd animals. There's a chance it's lonely. Llamas like to be around their own kind," Kiesse says.

He says llamas have long been used in other countries as shepherding or guard animals.

"At Sanctuary One, they tend to stick close to the goats. By nature, they guard smaller animals," Kiesse says. "We seldom have worries about bringing in llamas because they mix so well with other animals. Llamas have been known to kill predators like coyotes. They are fiercely protective of smaller animals and their own babies."

Kiesse says he recently read an article about a llama that laid down its life for another animal.

"The llama that got killed was protecting a goat," he says.

According to the International Llama Association, a solo llama is a more effective guard. Groups of llamas may bond with each other and ignore sheep, goats and other animals.

The association says llamas have an innate dislike for canines and are most effective against dogs and coyotes.

Guard llamas often seek out an elevated area from which to watch over flocks and herds, and may even shepherd their charges around to feed, water and shelter, according to the association.

— Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.