What to do when you get the call about a loose llama

Provided by "Good News Llamas"

Planning is the key to success!

  • Two or three quiet, calm individuals who've spent a few minutes planning what they're going to do, and how they are going to do it, are more successful than a dozen arm-waving individuals who don't have a good plan.
  • Darting the llama is not  recommend  unless the llama or people are in danger of injury, as doses are not safe enough and it  is difficult to get a dart through the wool without using such a large charge that could cause injury to the llama.
  • NEVER Lasso - You could break the llamas neck or legs.

Capture Concerns:   You get a call of a llama running loose.  (sometimes people don't know what the animal is, if they have not seen llamas before)

Questions to ask:

  • The exact location the llama was spotted
  • Is the llama injured - unable to get up - stuck or trapped in something
  • Is the llama wearing a halter
  • Do you know of other llamas in the area
  • What type of area have you seen the llama - open field, housing development, highway traffic
  • General size of llama -  size of a pony,  large horse (Wool can be deceiving  in the weight of the animal)
  • How long have you been seeing the llama
  • Ask them to Keep the animal in sight until help arrives.     Advise them not to try to catch the llama

Address the immediate danger to the animal:

  • Need to stop traffic if llama is on a highway or city street
  • Injury to animal
  • Injury to people
  • Dogs or other animals in area
  • Scout the area for a potential   "catch pen" - an alleyway that can be blocked off with a big  truck, a space between a house and garage a fenced in area
  • In an open field you will need to  lure or herd the llama  to a corner, building or catch pen
  • Heat Stress - In hot weather this is really a danger to the llama   
    • Emergency heat stress treatment (symptoms of  heat stress - open mouth  breathing, frothing at mouth, chest area feels very hot, glazed eyes, can't  walk - hose legs, genital area and  belly with cool water, bags  of ice to lay around the llama, shade, fans, bucket of cold water, shear the     llama around the belly area. 
    • Halter needs to be high under the eyes - not down on the soft part of the nose  - above, the photo shows a quick halter made from a rope. It does not "squeeze his nose".

  A simple halter made from a catch rope.

A simple halter made from a catch rope.

The Rules of Camelid Herding Behavior By Marty McGee Bennet

From "Camelid Companion" A complete guide to handling & training your llama or alpaca.

Effectively herding is a combination of: understanding animal behavior, setting up your facilities or open area to support your efforts.

The Flight Zone: All creatures including humans and certainly camelids have an area around them that is protected space. 
When applied to animals this space is called the  flight zone. 

  • Walk into this space and the animal will move away from you.
  • When threatened an animal's first choice is to get away -  the flight response.
  • All mental circuits are focused on finding an escape route. 

Finding an escape route is an instinctive response. The animals will be thinking and problem solving as they move. You, too, must think and plan ahead. The animal knows where to stand and where not to stand to remain safely out of reach. They are keen observers of human behavior and  nothing is more important to them than being safe. 


Prey or predator, human or alpaca: the last thing any creature wants is to be cornered. Herding with your arms outstretched is fundamentally different than cornering an animal with your arms outstretched. 

  • When you herd  an animal you offer a place to go --  the escape route.
  • When you corner an animal and cut off all avenues of escape a sufficiently frightened llama or alpaca will move in any and all ways to escape. 
  • This includes jumping over fences and plowing over humans. 
  • Keep a respectful distance -  just at the edge of the flight zone   - from your critters as you herd them.
  • By never grabbing or cornering them, you can avoid these scary and dangerous scenarios.

Animals that are tangled or otherwise stuck

  • Resist the urge to go charging up to help
  • Running up on an animal that is stuck will provoke the  flight response and  you many do more harm than good.
  • Approach at an angle that gives the animal a sense of  an escape route and walk calmly up to the animal BEHIND the eye
  • If you must handle the legs to help, make contact with the BODY first and slide  down to the legs.

If you would like to read more of this book, it may be purchased on Amazon.

Cover of Camelid Companion book by Marty McGee Bennet

Cover of Camelid Companion book by Marty McGee Bennet

Two different situations that you may be involved with:

Tame llamas or alpacas: These may have gotten loose from a barnyard, back country hike or a  public event. Typically these are easy to herd into an enclosure where they can be caught. The key is to move them slowly and quietly.   
Llamas that have been mistreated or running free for a long time: More time and planning will be needed as they will be wary of humans & may not understand about feed, grain or hay as enticements.   

Each article below address one of these situations.

This article is for tame llamas who are loose but not wild

By Carol Reigh, Buck Hollow Llamas, Inc. And Katrina Capasso, Dakota Ridge Farm

TIPS ON CATCHING LOOSE LLAMAS/ALPACAS By Carol Reigh, Buck Hollow Llamas, Inc. And Katrina Capasso, Dakota Ridge Farm 

Llamas are going to run if you chase them.  When a llama is loose, the first effort should be to move to the road side of them and keep them away from the road, if possible.  Basically you have to outsmart them, which can be very difficult to do.  So here are some suggestions to try: 

  • Food:  Get a bucket with grain and shake it, getting the animals attention. If you don't have a bucket of grain with you (which most people don't), grab some type of container and throw some pebbles in it and offer like it's grain.  Once you get close enough, you might be able to put an arm around their upper neck (up near the ears) and hold on. If you grab them in the lower neck area, there's no way you can hold them unless you're very strong. Most animals will stand once you do this and then you can slowly grab their halter/lead rope and lead them to safety. Slow and easy approach is the very best way.   
  • Corral them to safety or to a corner:   get a long rope or tie some leads together and put a person on each end. Slowly corral them to the direction you want them to go.  This might mean moving them into a wall or fence or corner. The same corralling technique can be used with a line of people with outstretched hands.  The key is not to run but to gently and calmly and slowly move them along.  As you approach, the animal might try to make a break for it.  Be sure there are no gaps in your line.  If this happens, put your hand firmly and directly in front of its face.  A llama will seldom run his face into your hand or anything else.  Do not wave your hands around, simply extend your arms as guides (you can use poles to lengthen your reach).  When the animals stops, put the lead around the neck or slowly grab the halter.    
  • Use another animal to lure them to you or back to the pasture or trailer.  This is actually the most effective method as a loose llama wants to be with a buddy.  Lead the one and the other should follow. Swing a lead rope in a circular motion.   This process used when in Peru where they do not use halters or leads.  They guide the caravan of llamas from behind swinging a rope like object.  If the llamas deviate from the direction they want them to go, they toss a stone in front of them to startle them back to the correct direction. Catching a runaway llama is not an easy task for anyone.   Remembering that they will not hurt you and they are simply scared (or have their own agenda) is an important tool.  You will never be able to outrun or out jump them, so you will have to outsmart them.  

Llamas are beautiful and majestic, but completely misunderstood. Running after them only kicks in their flight response to danger. Try to make them feel safe with slow, quiet movements.   

Two llamas that are loose in a pasture with other llamas.

Two llamas that are loose in a pasture with other llamas.

How to Catch a Wild Llama Running Free

By Linda Hayes, Llama Linda Ranch

How to Catch a Llama Running Free
Free roaming llamas need to be taught to go to the place where you are to catch them. This is usually a corral of some sort. Putting feed and water in the enclosure for several days before attempting to catch them is ideal. Llamas can jump very high so they need to be comfortable with their surroundings. Otherwise they will jump out when they see you.

Trying to herd llamas is like herding cats. It is almost impossible. They need to go where they think it is their idea. This means they should be handled quietly and slowly so they actually have time to consider their surroundings and decide that where you are trying to get them to go is safe.  

When you are dealing with several animals they will try and behave as one unit. If one decides to jump out or turn a different way, the others will follow.  Watch for cues that may forewarn this behavior and adjust your movements accordingly.

The best way to catch a llama is with another llama. They don't like being alone and are very curious. Unless they are extremely nervous from being chased or mistreated they will almost always go to a strange llama. If you can  bring 2 or more new llamas to their area, you will have an even better chance of getting them to  go to check out the new ones.

Please don't lasso them. It can break their necks or do severe damage. Sometimes well meaning individuals try to round them up with horses or ATV's.  This is not recommended as they will not go where you want and be even harder to catch using the preferred methods. Chasing a llama can easily bring on life threatening heat stress or a sudden collapse.

Llamas are creatures of habit. They normally graze in a pattern that is the same each day. Knowing where they will be will let you locate a place for a catch pen. This can be made out of several cattle panels. Leave a large enough opening that they will easily enter. They love to eat so will come for food. It may take you several days to get them feeling comfortable. Put feed and water in the pen. Each day, close the opening a little more until there is just the gate's opening. Tie a long rope on the gate so that when you do try to close it, you will not have to get too close to the captives.

Llamas can jump as much as 6 feet from a stand still so you have to make sure you don't stress them while in the corral. Move quietly around them and talk in a calm voice. Make sure that horses, dogs & other animals they may perceive as a threat are kept far away. That includes extra people. Although llamas can jump high they seldom do. They usually can be kept in the same fencing as you would use for a horse or cow. Avoid using barbed wire as they will rub against it and cut themselves.

If possible, have a stock trailer or large horse trailer backed up to the corral. If you can leave it there for several days, you may be able to feed the llamas in the trailer itself making your job that much easier.

To move the llamas into the trailer use a length of expanded plastic mesh fencing. Space people every few feet and slowly move toward the animals. If they start to act frightened, stop and let them settle down. Take your time because if they become fearful at this point it will be hard to get them loaded.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Llamas will usually move away from a person with outstretched hands or people with a rope stretched between them. But it is imperative that you take your time and stop and wait whenever they become agitated. Having the expanded plastic fencing just makes the job easier.

As the llamas move toward the trailer some will usually go in. It helps if there is a llama already tied inside or a bunch of feed to entice them. If there is not enough room for the tame llama in the trailer, tie her outside at the far end so they must enter to sniff noses. (Use a female llama if you are trying to catch males.)

Once the llamas are clustered around the trailer opening have your helpers with the fence move into the llamas until they are crowded together and the only place to go is the trailer. Because your helpers will have crowded into the herd, the llamas will not be able to kick anyone. When people are so close that they are pushing against their rear ends the lamas won't have room to kick. Have the people holding the fencing shove into them using their whole bodies. Do this until they are loaded. You may have to use brute strength to get them in. Lifting front feet in and heaving the rear up and forward is about the fastest way to get this done.   

Do not tie the llamas in the trailer as they can get tangled and break their necks. Once settled they will travel setting down. If you are taking them to a place where they need to be haltered follow the directions in the attached article "How to Halter a Llama".  

Several llamas running free.

Several llamas running free.

How to Halter a Llama

by Linda Hayes, Llama Linda Ranch

This technique will work with llamas that have previously been handled in a gentle manner and is the preferred training method.  With wild llamas that must me haltered immediately, more force and taking less time will be required. Keep in mind that by "cowboying"  a llama, catching it a second time will be even harder. It's best to move quietly from the start. When it comes to memory; llamas are like elephants. 

 Unless you are immediately turning the llamas over to an experienced person you will need to halter them. This is for restraint while you check their health or move them from place to place. The fit of the halter is very important. Often llamas being rescued will have on an ill fitting halter. Some may actually be embedded in the skin of the face. The facial bones of llamas and alpacas do not extend down toward the nose as far as they do on a horse. The lower face is made of cartilage. If the nose band of the halter is too low it can smother them. See the photo of  how halters should fit.

Llamas don't like to be caught but once you have them they usually give in and are easy to lead and work with. The following steps are for a llama that has been caught before and is broke to lead.

You need a small catch pen. Ten by ten is best but a long narrow alley will also work. It needs to be narrow enough that you can move back and forth to keep them from going past you. (It is a very rare llama that you can walk up to in the field and catch...very rare.)

Most llamas will not brush by you if they think they are going to touch you when they do it. They don't want you in their personal space. This really works to your advantage. You need to remain quiet and not hurry things as that gets the llama upset. Then they will push past you and you will have to start over trying to calm them down.

Once in the pen, go in slowly but with authority. Don't act like you are afraid of them. Stand straight and move slowly but without hesitation. Don't walk straight toward their head. Instead aim for their shoulder or side. This seems to be less intimidating to them. Hold your arms out to the side to make a "person fence" to keep them where you need them. Most won't rush your arms but try to avoid them. Just don't YOU rush them.

Llamas learn vocabulary. Use the same word each time and with the same tone of voice. I use "Stand". When the llama stops moving, you stop too. This is their reward for doing as asked. Wait a moment and step toward the center of their back. Say "stand" again and when they stop you repeat your stop and keep doing this over and over. Talk calmly to them as you stand there. Watch for them to relax a bit before you move again.

When you are close enough you may be able to touch them on the back or put your arm around the neck. Do this with a firm feel. Llamas do not like a light touch.  Some llamas give in when you rest your hand on the back, others don't. You have to learn the individual animal.

Some llamas give in if you put the lead rope over their back. If you can get it over the back up by the neck, try and keep it there even if they move around the pen. If you can get it around their neck, try and move it up toward the head as this gives you more control and leverage.

If they move away you will have to repeat the process until they give in. Remember that the reward for the llama standing still is that you stop heading for them for a moment.  If they try to bolt and run by you, you will need to move in front of them to block them. Do this until they stop.

Once you can get close enough to slide your arm around their neck, you may have to move with them as they try to get away. Now is not the time to wimp out...go with them. Most will stop soon especially if you say "stand".

I say "Halter" to let them know I am going to snap the lead on them or put the halter on their head. They like to know or be warned as to what you are going to do to them. So get used to verbal commands.

At this point you should be able to snap on the lead. If you need to put the halter on this may take more doing.

Try and keep them under control by having the lead rope around the neck up by the head.  Hold it in one of your hands along with the halter. That way if they try to back away you can keep them with you.   If you are able, it helps to position them so their rear end is in a corner. This keeps them from backing away from you. Some llamas however, will not let you move them until haltered so you just have to work with what you have.

With your right arm around the llama's neck, use both hands to get the halter ready. Hold it below the llamas face. They hate things coming at them from above so always put it on from below.

Have the nose piece open and lift it over the nose. Try not to slide it on the nose but lift it over onto the face just below the eyes. Then fasten it.

When you take off the halter, Use the neck rope to keep them from getting into the habit of pulling away as you take the halter off. This is a bad habit and one they learn way to fast so don't let them get away with it. Some llamas already have learned this trick. With these llamas, turn them so that their back end is in a corner. This way they have no place to go should they try and bolt backwards.

Llamas learn fast. Unfortunately they pick up bad habits just as quickly. Try and be consistent in what you do and the commands you give.  If they tend to spit when you approach, just get ready for it and ignore the behavior. Most won't direct the spit at you. They are just showing their displeasure or fear. Don't reward them by reacting to it.

Don't rush the process. If you are getting upset, stop and come back at another time. Have a small pen, lots of patience and a positive, constant demeanor and you will do just fine. 

You may not need to individually halter the llamas. They can be herded in groups into a trailer and then into their new home without leading each separately. If  they need to be attended by a veterinarian they will need to be put in a squeeze chute or haltered.   

Drawing of a  halter showing the different parts & correct fit.

Drawing of a halter showing the different parts & correct fit.

Useful tools to help you catch a llama.

  • Anything that will extend your arms such as PVC pipe, a hose, rope or light weight fencing (plastic snow or garden fencing). Llamas will usually move away from outstretched arms or ropes strung between people. The key is to move slowly.
  • If they have a halter on, a shepherds hook ,cane or anything that will let you snag the halter ring from a distance will be beneficial.
  • your herding poles - long poles to extend your arms reach (Ski poles or walking sticks or even light weight PVC.)

  • catch rope at least 6 feet long

  • Herding tape - to make a temporary barrier - flat 1-2  inch wide nylon webbing of an optimum length with a tension buckle on one end that you can attach to a gate or corner post to create an instant fence. The tape is most effective at the animal's chest level. You can move the tape up or down to discourage the animal from jumping over or going under.  Electric fence won't work as the llama's wool  protects them from the shock. The wide electric fencing may be useful as a temporary barrier with the electricity turned off.

Two baby llamas; one with halter and one without.

Two baby llamas; one with halter and one without.

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