Saving a Large Herd - Part 1

by Lynda Liptak, Llamas del Sol

Southwest Llama Rescue (SWLR) was called upon to rescue a large herd from the mountains of CO living on 200–300 acres. The fencing is minimal, and they are able to jump onto the neighbor’s property and roam where they please. They have survived as wild llamas for many years, though some have perished, and new ones continually are being born. It is the end of September 2018, and we know we are running out of time to save approximately 35 llamas.

We are told that they will come up to the corrals near the house and that it should not be too difficult since they do that frequently. However, there is no hay (as we thought there would be) to entice them and there is no incentive to come in. They don’t volunteer to rescue themselves or walk into the containment area.

We notice on Friday at the site visit there is a lot of fence repair that we must do to contain them in a smaller field first before getting them to go into corrals. Several hours of the first day are spent organizing, planning, building, and repairing the containment areas. None of us have worked together before and we all have come with different experiences, successes, and failures from our past rescue efforts. We are struggling to mend fences, raise panels, and create an inviting yet secure area to confine 34 wild llamas which have actually also bonded with a donkey, a ram, and an alpaca. Some of our efforts are at cross-purposes of others’ efforts, unintentionally. I think one of the most challenging issues with a llama rescue is that it is always a customized effort for the situation so each one is like a first -- especially when the team is meeting for the first time. People can be edgy in this stressful situation and there is a lot of work and a lot of patience required.

On Friday evening, we have a good-sized crew and meet over a pizza dinner at a local restaurant. Jonna Johnson and Jake generously came from the Technical Large Animal Rescue (TLAR) all the way from Houston, TX with their perfect large trailer for moving the females and crias to our Texas Sanctuary & Nursery run by F.E. Baxter. Also, Pat and E.T. Little, our experienced rescuers from SWLR are up from Tularosa, NM and brought a trailer with 16’ panels for creating a secure corral. Kent Greentree, an experienced handler and trainer, came from Walsenburg, CO also with panels and a thin tape for topping the fence line that would deter jumping. Gayle Woodsum brought her trailer to take some llamas and was the designated leader for the effort given her experience with the notorious Montana Sanctuary Rescue that dealt with 600+ suffering llamas during the heart of the winter in 2007. And of course we had local support from the son of the owner and his family who were very kind, helpful, and ultimately grateful as his elderly mother was having to surrender her herd which had grown out of control by mixing males and females over the years. I am in the area from Albuquerque but in the area on travel for work; and as an active member of SWLR, I volunteered as did everyone else to help these llamas move to a safer place and be cared for and managed properly.  This is my largest rescue so far.

    Jake and Jonna

Our first step was to build a large enough containment field to herd them into that would feel safe enough to the wild llamas that they would not jump or push the panels. Also we built a corral and catch pen with a chute of sorts directing them ultimately into the trailer. This was done in the first early hours of Saturday after unloading and placing several panels on Friday evening.  A big mistake was thinking that hay was delivered and so no one brought any. Thankfully, the sheriff’s office contact brought us two small bales Saturday.

Our first attempt at about 9 am Saturday at moving the llamas into the large fenced area was fraught with trouble. The llamas wanted to go a different way than they were known to do and miss the open gate all together. They started panicking as they were being pushed towards the corral. The rescue team was not in synch or agreement as to how to comport ourselves or how to coax or react around the llamas. We had a mixed bag of beginners and experienced folks. The llamas all bolted away and ran off about a quarter mile down the hill and hid behind the treeline.  A pair of binoculars were needed to see them. We learned lessons of routing of least resistance, keeping still and quiet, and the use of herding tape may have improved our chances.

While we waited for a new opportunity, some volunteers walked the fence line and re-enforced openings and revised the entry point to the coral that we hoped made a better funneling for the llamas. We hoped that we could get the llamas to try again, with less fear.

Kent waited about an hour to let them settle down before he went and simply sat down in the field to slowly coax them out and towards the fenced area. Around 12:30 there was an agreement with the rescue team (aha! Good to set your clocks and agree to a time for movement!) that we would try again to move them into the corral. This time we had more or less a cohesive plan.

Jonna walked the road to keep the llamas from bolting up the mountain where we would lose them entirely. Jake, Lynda, Pat, Kent, E.T., and the owner's son created a partial circle behind the llamas using the herding tape to signal the desired direction and create a pseudo fence line. We slowly started moving the llamas forward. We were quiet, calm, and often stopped to control any panic. I tried to keep the tape spread out among everyone so that it would act as a deterrent for going backwards.  However as they approached the corral, they were very reluctant to enter – but we had them in the fenced area!

Donkey was not afraid and just ambled into the hay-filled corral and started eating hay – Yay! As several llamas followed, a few felt crowded and started bolting in different directions. A cria to my horror ran right into the herding tape and fell backwards – she was obviously allowed to recover and run off. I think we lost 4 of them. The large black female who seemed to be a leader was now facing me. She went high toward the treed area instinctively knowing she had the advantage among the aspens. We both darted and countered each other, eye-to-eye. She is stunningly beautiful, agile, and powerful. I can’t match her of course, and finally she bolts past me to her freedom. We lose her and one or two others. But wait, at the other end of the scene, I see another situation. One of the crias is running around in a panic, can’t find its mother, and is jumping around and challenging the fences and panels. She finds a weak spot and manages to push down some cattle panels and climb out (5 1/2 ft. tall). Then a large female sees another small opening that she can clear – a small space only 4 ft. high, and over she sails. Two more lost.

In the end, we have 30 animals in the corral! 27 llamas, a sheep, an alpaca, and a donkey. We are all hoping no more will jump out. We let them settle in for the evening with the remains of two hay bales.

On Sunday, Day 2, the sorting of sexes is to be done while I make a hay run to Buena Vista. There is not enough hay for them to eat now and we need to sustain them to keep them calm.

Separating the males and females was another stressful time. It causes a lot of commotion and there is even a mutiny by the males who all push the line of panels separating them from the females and manage to rejoin. So, we start over to get the females in the front catch pen to load up for our sanctuary in Kerrville, TX run by Baxter. Jonna has been delayed an extra day already and the vet is nowhere to be seen – a requirement to move these llamas across the country is a vet check. We are anxiously waiting for the go–ahead to trailer the llamas as there is a very long ride for the females and crias not to mention our kind volunteers needing to get home. Finally the vet comes and spends 5 -10 minutes to draw up paperwork and we are good to go.

Loading takes patience as the llamas learn for the first time in their lives how to get into a trailer and to trust it enough to walk into. The hard work is only partly done as we get the females and crias loaded.  There are still the males and the family that Gayle is keeping that are all going into Gayle’s trailer.

The sheep (ram) was left behind with 7 escaped llamas and that was a hard reality to swallow. No one knows when the next rescue can be arranged but we did know that before long we could be in the same predicament of breeding llamas running wild, jumping fences and dying from starvation or exposure. We need to recuperate from this mega-effort and devise a plan.