Since the time of the
Incas, llamas have patiently carried their packs across some of the
roughest terrain in the world.
Today, as the effects of
increased recreation on our public lands become more evident, llamas
have emerged as preferred pack animals when surefootedness and minimal
impact are necessary.
Well-trained llamas are easily handled.
They are excellent animals for seniors or physically challenged
individuals to pack, and may even be trained to accept a small child as
a rider. Their size makes them easy to transport in a van or a truck. As
they walk at about the same pace as a person, they make excellent hiking
As more and more llamas are being used as
pack animals, the sight of one on the trail is becoming commonplace.
With their calm disposition and gentle appearance, llamas rarely elicit
a negative response in these encounters. Hikers are usually fascinated
and often pause to ask handlers questions regarding their llamas
A llama’s usual reaction to strangers could be characterized as interest
or curiosity. Since llamas prefer their own space, they don’t crowd
people, and llamas are safe pack stock to handle as they generally do
not become panicky under unusual circumstances.
A recent study conducted
by Utah State University in cooperation with the Aldo Leopold Wilderness
Research Institute found that there is little opposition to llama
packing from most back country visitors. Hikers appear to consider
llamas as acceptable in the back country as horses.
The study showed
that the greater potential for conflict exists between hikers and
horseback riders rather than between hikers and llama packers. Using
llamas as pack animals was perceived by hikers to cause fewer problems.
The most notable advantage of llamas is their
low environmental impact. They are much smaller than most equine pack
stock with the average pack llama weighing between 300-400 pounds.
A llama’s foot is split into two toes, with a toenail on top and a
leathery pad on the bottom. The print left in the soil is quite similar
in appearance to that of an elk or deer. The design of a llama’s foot
allows it to spread on soft ground, thereby distributing weight over a
slightly larger area. This same design allows the foot to surround and
grip a surface when a llama is traveling over rocky terrain.
Llamas’ legs are set well under them, allowing them to walk on extremely
narrow trails; they are limited only by the width of their packs. They
are capable of standing with all four feet in a small space and can
easily turn around in extremely tight quarters.
Another recent study
conducted by the University of Montana compared the influence of horse,
llama, and foot traffic to soil erosion on established trails under both
wet and dry conditions. In this study, llamas were responsible for much
less erosion when compared to horses, and were found to have a similar
impact to that of hikers.
Llamas are often capable of carrying
loads into areas too rugged for conventional pack stock. They cross
water, rocks, shale slides and can easily negotiate most trails. Llamas
have not been limited to carrying supplies for back country hikers. They
are used by hunters to pack a wide variety of game, by fishermen to pack
float tubes up to high mountain lakes, and by Forest Service employees
to carry saws and other equipment for clearing and building trails in
remote and nearly inaccessible areas. This adds up to a stable yet agile
pack animal that can perform well in a variety of back country
conditions, in a versatile and environmentally friendly way.
Off-Trail Impacts and Grazing
The off-trail effects of llamas and
horses were compared in a study conducted by the Aldo Leopold Research
Institute. The results confirmed that the trampling effects on native
vegetation by a llama is much less than that of a horse. Llamas have few
problems negotiating picket ropes and in camp they can easily be staked
out where they will lie down and quietly chew their cud after eating.
Moving them once or twice a day further minimizes their impact.
Llamas are preferred grazers that also browse and are modified ruminants
with a three chambered stomach. In addition to grasses, they will eat
leaves, twigs, weeds, and other plants. Eating a little of this and a
little of that, cafeteria style, spreads out their impact on indigenous
plants. Supplemental weed-free feed can be provided if needed.
feces are similar in appearance to those of a deer or elk. Their small
pellets of dung are deposited in a dung pile that is easily scattered
with a boot or shovel. Llamas require much less to drink than most pack
stock. They are members of the camel family and obtain much of their
water needs from what they eat. However, this does not preclude the need
to offer them water daily while on the trail.
Since most wild animals have never seen a llama, they
are often curious rather than frightened. They may stand and watch or
circle the llamas to pick up their scent. Although llamas have been
victims of bear or cougar attacks, large carnivores tend to avoid llamas
as aliens. Llamas will usually sound a high pitched alarm call when
these predators are in the area. Llamas are classified as "farm animals"
by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Llamas have been studied and found to
be highly resistant to major livestock diseases. There are no cases
where a llama has been suspect in the transmission of any livestock
disease to other livestock or wildlife. Marked anatomic and physiologic
differences between camelids and ruminants exist in many organ systems.
This is not surprising since camelids and ruminants have been on
separate evolutionary lines for more than 40 million years. Most
parasites and diseases are species specific making the possibility of
spreading disease or parasites to native wildlife extremely remote.
When hiking, llamas are very quiet. They are
observant and will often spot wildlife or other trail users before their
human handlers do. Llama packers need to be aware of other trail users,
especially horse and mule parties. Safety dictates that llamas, as the
more maneuverable pack stock, should be led well off the trail,
preferably downhill, when horses or mules are encountered.
mules generally become accustomed to the sight of llamas after a few
encounters. This safety issue is one that is shared by both llama and
equine stock users. A high risk situation can be avoided with education
and training of all parties.
The llamas’ low impact status is
appreciated and sought out by people who are environmentally concerned.
Since llamas are relatively new on the North American hiking scene,
owners must become educated as to their care and handling on the trail.
As low impact and unobtrusive as llamas are, they still can have an
adverse effect on their environment if not handled properly. The little
impact that they have is easily compensated for by awareness and action
on the part of their handlers. Most businesses that lease pack llamas
usually do so after the client has taken a course on llama packing.
Llama associations and clubs also provide educational material for new
owners on the subject of llama packing.
Information in this
document was prepared in part using results of studies conducted by the
Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research
Institute, Utah State University,
University of Montana, and Ricks College.
Cole, D.N. and D.R.
Spildie. 1997. Hiker, horse and llama trampling effects on native
vegetation in Montana, USA. Submitted to
Journal of Environmental
H.A. Schantz. 1997. Horse and llama forage selection and
trampling impact in meadows. M.S. thesis. University of Idaho, Moscow
Smith, K.K. and D.J. Blahna. 1995. The Social
Impacts and Management of Llamas as Recreational Packstock. Ricks
Rexburg, ID. 55 pp.
Deluca, T.H., W.A. Patterson IV, W.A.
Freimund, and D.N. Cole. In press. Influence of llamas, horses, and
hikers on soil erosion
from established recreation trails in western
Montana. Environmental Management.
For supporting documentation
regarding this pamphlet, please contact the ILA.
"The Impacts of
Llamas as Hiking Companions" prepared by the 1996-97 ILA Packing
ã 1997 International Llama Association. This publication
may be reprinted if done so in complete form and credit is given.