Other Livestock

How to Understand Alpaca Behavior

Alpacas are social herd animals and should always be kept with others of their kind, or, at the very least, with other herd animals. They are gentle, elegant, inquisitive, intelligent, and observant. As they are a prey animal, rather than a predator, they are cautious and will understandably be nervous if they feel threatened.

Give Them Space

They like their own space and don’t appreciate an unfamiliar alpaca (or human) getting too close, especially if they approach from behind. They will warn the intruder away by making sharp, noisy inhalations, putting back their ears, twisting their heads and necks backwards toward the perceived threat, screaming, threatening to spit, spitting, or by kicking. Some alpacas kick, some don’t, but due to the soft pads on their feet, their kicks are not as dangerous as hoofed animals. Not all alpacas spit, but all are capable. “Spit” is somewhat euphemistic; while occasionally the contents of the projectile are only air and a little saliva, the alpaca will bring up regurgitated stomach contents and fire away.

Why Alpacas Spit

Spitting is normally reserved for other alpacas, not for humans, but sometimes the human can get in the line of fire. However, if the alpaca is extremely displeased at a human, that person may well become covered in smelly, horrible green goo. Many people who work with alpacas would much rather come into contact with alpaca feces than with alpaca spit, the smell is that foul.

Spitting isn’t any fun for the alpaca, either; when they spit, most animals get what is called “sour mouth.” Sour mouth is characterized by a loose-hanging lower lip and a gaping mouth. This is caused by the stomach acids and unpleasant taste of the contents as they pass out of the mouth. Some alpacas will spit when looked at, others will never spit; their personalities are so individualized that there isn’t a hard and fast rule about “alpacas will always/never” in terms of social behavior.

Alpacas don’t like their heads being touched. Once they know their owners, and feel confident around them, they will probably allow their backs and necks to be touched, but they won’t appreciate being grabbed, especially by boisterous children. This is probably because when alpacas are caught up for medical or otherwise unpleasant procedures, people generally grab at their necks and hold them by the neck and head. Once socialized well, most alpacas will tolerate being stroked or petted anywhere on their bodies, although many do not like their feet and lower legs handled. If an owner needs to catch an alpaca, the neck offers a good handle and holding the neck firmly between the arms is the best way to restrain the animal.

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