Berserk Male Syndrome in Llamas
an article by Paul Taylor
Since I used the term "berserk male syndrome" in an article on llama training, there has been much discussion and misunderstanding of the phenomenon.
I want to stress that the classic berserk syndrome is quite rare. It seems to be the end result of a series of confusing and negative interactions with humans, beginning with the breakdown of the normal stand-offishness that herd raised llamas show in their relationships with humans.
A male llama that has been bottle fed or constantly petted and fondled as a baby will show no hesitation about initiating contact with humans, as in the mild case of the pushy llama who runs up to be petted or bumps with his chest against people in the pasture with him. Such a llama is apt to be pushed or slapped to keep him away. This conflict can escalate over a period of time, possibly with changing owners or dealers who eventually use a whip or club to keep the animal at bay. The final result seems to be a tangled combination of the normal llama behavior for dominance, assertion, breeding and defense.
Anyone who has been near a truly berserk male adult llama knows how frightening and dangerous such an animal is. He will viciously attack a human on sight even if he has to run across a large field to do it. He has the strength of his insanity and it is difficult and risky for two or even three men to subdue him.
The attack is characterized by blood-curdling screaming and snarling with repeated lunges in an attempt to knock the victim off his feet. He will strike from the side using his knees as a ram or rearing up on back legs will lash down and across with his head and neck. Such a llama is absolutely psychotic and has been described as "demonic" by the stunned owners of normal llamas on seeing the syndrome for the first time. I know of no way to reestablish normal behavior in a llama who has reached this stage.
The best approach, in my opinion, is to prevent this negative sequence in the beginning by allowing the baby males to be socialized by the herd so that they develop the normal standoffish attitude toward humans.
Llama babies can be trained to accept and even crave petting, and this is very tempting to us who wish llamas were as cuddly and loving as it seems they should be. But, it is much wiser and kinder to the animal to avoid this abnormal conditioning until he is 4-6 months old, when handling with an attitude of benevolent dominance is all to the good. Llamas raised in this way make good studs, safe pets and reliable pack animals.