Llama Dramas

Llama Dramas is a series of interactions observed by Jacky Sawatzky at High Park Zoo. Join us on her adventures in learning!

Episode One - In Honour of Grandmothers

In honour of the grandmothers of the herd

All three crias (a juvenile llama) born in 2019 have a grandmother in the herd: Dusty to Jazz, Salsa to Chilli, and Honey to Stardust. And, as Chiquita is Honey’s mother, this makes her Stardust’s great-grandmother.

In the weeks after Chilli’s birth I observed Dusty, lead llama to the herd, snap at Chilli. Salsa, on the contrary, would often nuzzle Chilli and even protect her when, for example, Arianna chased her away from the hay. Salsa lets Chilli climb on her back when cushed, lets her nibble on her ears and lips and nuzzle her nose (“nose to nose”). Chilli follows Salsa around. Salsa does snap at her, although this almost always happens around food. 

As Tango’s cria (Jazz) was almost due, I wondered whether Dusty be more tolerant towards her soon-to-be-born grandchild. Dusty does nuzzle Jazz more often than Chilli, though she did not show the same protective and playful behaviour that Salsa did towards Chilli. Not once have I seen Jazz climb onto Dusty’s back. I then contemplated Honey’s responses to Stardust. Honey is not more or less engaged towards Stardust than with Chilli and Jazz. She would nuzzle all three of them.

Crias’ behaviour towards their grandmothers

Last week, Chilli climbed on Salsa’s back while she was cushed. Salsa snapped at Chilli and tried to push her off with her neck, but Chilli was just out of her reach. Salsa was increasingly irritated, however Chilli did not stop. Salsa, however, did not get up, which would have put an end to Chilli’s behaviour. Chilli only stopped her climbing activities to join her sisters, Jazz and Stardust, in a chase around the compound.

So far, I have only seen Chilli regularly engage with her grandmother Salsa, though this does not mean that the others don’t. Does Chilli recognize Salsa as her grandmother? How would we know if she does? She might sense something familiar in Salsa. Maybe Salsa smells like her mother, or, as mothers vocalize to their cria, Salsa’s humming might sound similar to her mother’s. Pepper is younger than Tango and Luna and might still be closer to her mother, and Chilli copies this behaviour. So I watched for this, and yes, Pepper can be seen more often in the vicinity of Salsa than Tango and Luna to their mothers (Dusty and Honey). But if and how this makes a difference won’t be known unless further research is done.


It is a bit of a challenge to tell Salsa, Dusty and Pepper apart. Focusing on behaviour as well as looks helps. Dusty is brown and has a dark patch around her eyes, and a grey/dusty neck. She does not engage much with the other llamas and is often cushed in the centre towards the back. Her spot, I call it. Salsa is also brown but with a red glow. With her daughter Pepper, she is one of the taller llamas. The difference with Pepper is her grey tuffs on the end of her ears. She is the only llama who will play queen of the mountain on the rock by the water. Honey is easy to tell apart as she looks different than all the other llamas. She is also the sweetest llama, you will seldom see her snap or spit at another llama.

An explanation of behavioural terms used:

Cushing – the official name for a llama sitting down.

Snapping – happens mostly while llamas are eating, though can also happen in a dispute around access to the dustbath. It is a negative gesture and means something like ‘back off’. The llamas put their ears back, muzzle up and make a pointed movement with their head and neck. Sometimes a little bite is included in this. You will see that the younger llamas, with the exception of Pepper, will seldom snap at their elders. 

Episode Two - *coming soon!*

About Llama Dramas – Jacky Sawatzky’s Biography

Born in Winnipeg, Jacky Sawatzky grew up in the Netherlands. With an educational background in visual art and science, Jacky landed in Toronto for a teaching job at Ryerson University and later taught at OCAD University. Jacky is currently is completing a Ph.D. at York University. Her research combines her passion for art and animals by attempting to understand how it is to be a llama and how they express themselves amongst each other. Jacky has created events where llamas and humans can come together in a shared space and observes their interactions. To-date, these events have included a concert where two musicians played (a viola and clarinet), and an impromptu visit by a juggler. In the few minutes of juggling clubs and balls, an audience of llamas, children and adults had gathered! To learn about llamas and their interactions, Jacky has spent hours watching the fourteen llamas living in High Park Zoo. They are getting to know each other pretty well!