The Spaniards found the llama when they reached the slopes of the high Andes mountains. They thought he might be some kind of sheep or goat. But they never had seen an animal quite like him, for the llama has lived anywhere except in the New World of the Americas. What’s more, the Spaniards were quite wrong about him, for he is not related to either sheep or goats.
The first thing you notice about the llama is his hoity toity expression. When at home, he looks down on the world from the high slopes of the Andes in South America, And perhaps he has some reason to feel superior. The famous Incas of Peru used him to carry their burdens and without him they never could have been such wonderful farmers. To this very day, in fact, mining in the steep Andes would be impossible without his help.
If someone told you that this dignified animal was a camel, you hardly would believe them. He has no hump on his back. He has no special stomach for carrying water to last him through several days. What’s more, he is only four feet tall and his proud little head is no higher than a camel’s stomach. Nevertheless, he is a member of the family Camelidae and he is actually more like the ancestors of all the camel family than are the big camels of Asia and Africa.
The llama has the same soft, silky kind of hair as his big camel cousins. He also has a camel type foot, with two wide, softly padded toes. And he walks with a camel style stride two right feet, then two left feet. This graceful swinging walk adds to the little llama's dignity.
For his size, the llama is one of the best toting animals in the
world. He can carry a burden of maybe 200 pounds with ease and he can carry it up and down the steepest of slopes, for he is a very sure footed animal.
If he is feeling fine, he usually travels 12 to 15 miles a day.
Only Mr. Llama is used for toil. Mrs. Llama is a pampered darling whose only job is to bring up Junior. The little fellow is always an only child, for Mama has only one baby at a time. For the first three years of his life, he is tenderly cared far and educated by his mother and by the various aunts in the llama herd. When he is big and strong enough to work for a living he is taken to join his Papa and ,carry his loads along with the other pack animals.
The family history of the camels is one of the most fascinating stories in the animal world. Their original home, some 50 million years ago, was in North America and their ancestors looked very much like the llama. Some left for Asia and Africa and became the big camels of the desert. The llamas and their cousins went south to live on the slopes of the lofty Andes. When the white men came, all the original camels had gene from North America.