One of four relatives of the camel in South America, llamas were first domesticated about 6000-7000 years ago by the Andean peoples. In the past, llamas were kept for their wool, meat and dung in addition to their use as pack animals. What are llamas used for in Peru nowadays? Mostly for their wool.
Like many dog breeds, llamas have two types of fur; a coat of coarser outer guard hair to protect from bad weather, and a softer undercoat to provide insulation. When used as fabric material, the wool is lighter, stronger and warmer than sheep wool and it comes in a variety of colors and patterns. Llama wool also has very little lanolin, an oil present in sheep wool that may cause allergies in some people (either because of a direct allergy to lanolin, or from harsh chemicals used to remove the oil from sheep wool).
Although llamas are native to South America, in more recent years they have been imported to North America. Besides their wool, farmers have taken advantage of llamas’ herding instinct. When a llama is raised with a herd of sheep, the llama takes the role of defender, chasing away predators that might attack the sheep. More than a single llama doesn’t work though, because the llamas will bond more to each other than to the sheep.
Be careful when approaching unknown llamas in Peru. A poorly socialized llama might push, bite, kick, or spit at you. Llamas pin their ears back and emit a groan or high-pitched squeal/gargling call to show their displeasure. However, a well socialized llama is an intelligent, gentle and friendly animal.
The mama and baby llama sightings in the video below are from the Campo de Artesano (Artisan Field) only half a block from the main Cusco Plaza de Armas. You’ll also see llamas and their owners throughout the center of the city if you walk around the plaza during your Peru trip.