The High Park Five meet their new friends at Serendipity Farm
On November 15, 2019, five llamas from High Park Zoo (Dusty, Salsa, Angelique, Pepper and her cria Chilli – known as “the High Park Five”) moved to Serendipity Farm in Lanark, Ontario.
I was fortunate to accompany these five llamas to the farm and stay for three days afterwards. Hosted by farmers Elizabeth & Keith Adam, I had an amazing opportunity to watch the High Park Five’s behaviour in an environment that was new and very different from the Zoo.
Many beautiful moments happened in the days following their arrival, and the High Park Five (HP5) were troopers. I remember thinking they must be so exhausted! So many new smells, sounds, and sights for these “city-llamas,” including new llama friends, new humans taking care of them, new feeding patterns, and new creatures: alpacas! To my knowledge, they had never seen or met an alpaca. Would they be recognised as relatives (alpacas are a smaller cousin to the llama)? How would this then be expressed?
In the early morning I would stand outside and listen to their humming. This had me think about the different hums; whether each llama had their own signature hum and whether the quality of humming changed through their different encounters, like a stress hum, or a calming hum. I will write more about this in a later llama blog entry. At the Zoo the llamas often hum when they are waiting to be fed, and Jet is particularly vocal!
The morning after their arrival, the fresh snow in their field was covered with llama prints. Already, the HP5 had been out exploring. In the following days I kept a close eye out for any stress behaviour such as huddling together or spitting and fighting amongst themselves, however I didn’t detect any unusual behaviour other then the typical little tiffs around food. Pepper tried to get at Dusty’s food and was given a “back-off” signal (ears back and muzzle up), however this was also noticed at the Zoo. The HP5 were also not afraid to approach the other llamas, who greeted them with a “nose to nose” gesture across the shared fence line.
After two days sharing a fence line with the other female llamas and alpacas, the gate was opened. Tressie was the first to approach the HP5, who were hanging out in the back field. She slowly approached them, with her neck and head low, tail relaxed and ears straight up; a none-threatening posture. Angelique snuggled up close to her big sister Salsa, Chilli stayed close to her mother Pepper, and Dusty stepped forward to Tressie. There was no sign of hostility (ears back and muzzle up) in any of the llamas. The only moment of ears back was when Tressie sniffed Dusty’s bum, a common response no matter who does that!
En-route to the large hay feeder the HP5 encountered Dolly, who blocked the path. The HP5 had to negotiate passage: Salsa followed by Angelique calmly and non-threateningly approached Dolly, tail relaxed. Dolly just stood there, ears slightly back. Eventually she stepped back; she had made her point: I am the matriarch here!
When the HP5 approached the large hay feeder, they were mobbed by 10 alpacas and they bolted! Standing at a distance huddled together, they watched. After five minutes, Pepper, followed by her cria Chilli, calmly walked towards the group of alpacas and llamas. Chilli watched at a distance when Mila, a llama cria, stepped out of the group towards Pepper. She had her tail curled over her back, a gesture I have only seen crias and yearlings do. Pepper greeted her with a “nose to nose.” Mila’s mother, Penny, watched at a close distance. After this gentle exchange, Pepper ran back to the other HP5 and Chilli followed. When she approached she seemingly copied Mila’s posture: making herself small, neck low, head down, ears normal, and tail curled flat on her back. I had seen this posture by Arianna back at the Zoo in the fall, and now Jet and Lima were also doing it. It is called “I am a little cria” and yearlings do it when they are weaning. When Pepper arrived back at the HP5, Dusty, Angelique and Salsa sniffed her. Were they checking if she was asserting stress hormones? The posture and the smelling made me wonder if Pepper was communicating what she had experienced. It was so interesting and begs for more research.
Later in the day Chilli walked over to a group of alpacas and got the ears back motion from T’Pau, a young female alpaca. Angelique, who followed behind Chilli, went over to T’Pau. She put her ears back, and muzzle slightly up, as if she was saying “back off!”. She reiterated this gesture! In llama this is a clear gesture. Did she know that these alpacas could understand her? Would she have made the same gesture if they were small horses?
The High Park Five have now been living in their new home for over five months. They are doing very well. Pepper is the charmer and loves a good back scratch. Dusty is still the leader. And Chilli and Mila get into allot of mischief. Serendipity Farm has an open house on the weekends. It is worth a visit! http://www.serendipityalpacas.ca/