Llamas Of South America, by Gladys Plemon Conklin
Llamas are by nature pretty entertaining looking animals, and as a resident of Oregon I have witnessed the attempt by many people to raise not only llamas but also alpacas for their wool. What this particular book does is present the camelids of South America, of which there are four species, two of them wild and two of them domesticated, in a context that shows how it is that these creatures have lived and lived and have interacted with humanity over the course of the last few centuries. There are a lot of worthwhile insights that can be gained from considering the connections that exist between beings, including the llamas and their cousins. It does appear that while llamas are beloved animals to many, they have a difficult time in the wild in South America at present because of the pressures of people on land and the fact that the wilder species of the camelids have been forced to live in ever more inhospitable territory to try to get away from people, which has led to the fragmentation of the species and to its intense vulnerability, although it is true that many countries are seeking to preserve the well-being of those herds that do remain by protecting land and trying to stop practices like the machine gunning of wild camelids by those looking for a quick slaughter.
This book is a short one at between 50 and 100 pages, and it includes illustrations as well as text about the four animals that make up the llama family of South America. The book begins with an exploration of the ancestor of the llamas as they have been found in the archaeological remains of sacrifices from thousands of years ago. After that comes a discussion of the timid guanaco, which lives in a range that include remote Patagonia and that allows the writer to discuss the range of such creature in history as well as at present. After that the author discusses the llama and its importance to the Inca empire as well as to contemporary populations of South America, not only its role as a pack animal but also as a sacrifice. After that comes a look at the silky alpaca, known for its fur, which has made the animal a popular one even if it is a temperamental one like its kin. Finally, the author explores the endangered nature of the vicuna, an animal whose range has been drastically affected by the spread of people in the Andes over the past few decades, with a fragmented and vulnerable distribution whose survival depends on conservation efforts. After this comes a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an index.
What do we gain from knowing about the camelids of South America. By and large, llamas, alpacas, and their shy and obscure and wild kin are all deeply entertaining animals. They represent the largest native animals of South America, and if they are unable to bear adult human beings as camels, horses, and donkeys do, they do bear loads and have humorous personalities that resemble the camel in terms of refusing to bear more than they can handle and showing a marked tendency to spit at people who attract their considerable natural supply of ire and spite. As someone who finds myself entertained by animals like the llama, whether I read about them or have seen them in zoos or even on the farms of quirky Oregonians looking to use their fur for various textiles, this book was a pleasant and enjoyable read that reminds one of the sort of field investigations that are common and have been common among European and American writers of the last couple centuries or so. Such investigations demonstrate something of the nature of people in wanting to explore physical and intellectual territories beyond the usual and also demonstrate the quirky and amusing nature of the plants and animals that are found there, including the four that this book focuses on.