|Llama Owner Information
Sutter's Mill Llama Ranch
Bill & Sandy Chickering
Llamas are members of the camel (camelid) family. In addition to the well-known, one-humped Dromedary camel of the Middle East and the two-humped Bactrian camel of Asia, there are four native members of the camel family in the Americas today: the llama, a domesticated beast of burden regarded throughout the world as the premier symbol of South American animals; the domesticated alpaca, selectively bred for its fine, multi-hued wool; the free-ranging guanaco, probable progenitor of the llama and historically common herbivore of the arid lands of South America; and the wild vicuna, fine-fleeced denizen of the central high Andean mountains.
The term Lama (with one L) is used here to refer to all four South American members of the camelid family, and the word llama is used in reference to that particular species. Though less common, the term's cameloid or lamoid may sometimes used to indicate this group. While this brochure refers mainly to the llama, most of what is said applies equally well to the growing number of alpacas in North America.
Llamas and their relatives are no strangers to our land. The camel family originated on the central plains of North America and spent their first 40 million years right here in our own backyard! Then, some three million years ago, camels migrated to Asia and Africa, while llama-like animals dispersed to South America. Just 10,000 - 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the camelids became extinct in North America. Meanwhile, in the highlands of Peru some 4,000 - 5,000 years ago, llamas were domesticated, placing them among the oldest domestic animals in the world.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, private animal collectors and zoos reintroduced lamas to their original North American homeland. Today there are an estimated seven million llamas and alpacas in South America (in approximately equal numbers) and over 100,000 llamas and alpacas in the United States and Canada.