Is that a Thing? All Llama, No Drama
by Dylan Miller and Gina Zammit
Have you heard the expression that a dog is a man’s best friend? Although that’s true, dogs are apparently sharing that spotlight with another animal—miniature llamas. If your title and name isn’t Llama Mama A.J. Collier, who leads llama hikes out of Rowanwood Farms in Newtown, CT, chances are you’ve gone months or even years without thinking of llamas once, and you’re about to finally find what’s been missing in your life.
“The llamas love walking,” A.J. explained. “It’s what they’ve been bred for over the course of 6,000 years. They all have their own personalities, but they are also naturally caring. They are one of the few animals that will defend another animal to the death—they will trample an attacking coyote but they will be your dog’s best friend. You really couldn’t find a better hiking companion.”
Can we all honestly say our friends would defend us to the death in the woods, should it come to it? Well, for just $50 you can spend an hour with such a friend and get a taste for what has driven A.J.’s lifetime passion. She runs Connecticut’s only mini llama hiking adventure company. The hikes are offered year-round (pending any severe weather conditions) and take place at Sticks and Stones Farm, a sprawling 60-acre nature space and retreat center in Newtown.
If you’re like me, your knowledge of llamas has come primarily from movies like Napolean Dynamite, pop culture references, and a vague understanding of their Peruvian roots. Aware that most are not enlightened about this magical animal, A.J. requires all participants to attend a “Llama 101” course before their first hike. While it’s impossible for me to impart to you what was bestowed on me during this class, here are some highlights.
• Male llamas have teeth like a T-Rex that they use for sparring, and make great watch animals.
• Llamas are exceptionally vulnerable to a parasite that normally inhabits white-tailed deer, which causes a fatal illness in llamas. Monthly Ivermectin shots are necessary to keep them safe.
• Llamas communicate by humming, and make a gargling noise—called an “orgle” when mating.
• They can be trained as therapy animals; professional comforters that work in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.
After the class, participants stand in a Stonehenge-like circle with towering rock structures and stone statues, while the lady-llamas are introduced one-by-one and matched with their human hiking partner. When I went on the tour, I was surprised at how effortless it was to walk in tandem with my llama. At times it was easier than walking a dog. My llama partner seemed at peace just by being in nature and following the herd, and I felt my stress levels melt away the further we went along.
The hiking adventure lasts about an hour and half, and the majority of the time was spent soaking in the sights of the forest with my llama. There was a brief intermission for a bathroom break (for the llamas). These ladies are so well trained they knew exactly where and when to go, and watching people move out of the line of fire added a big dose of humor to the hike. Another fun fact, llama droppings attract butterflies!
The llamas also stop for a drink in the stream, and perhaps the occasionally dip! Llamas love swimming, and one llama loves it so much her friends call her the “Loch Ness Llama.” After passing the Sticks and Stones Farm center, and the mysterious Moss Mountain, hikers reluctantly make their way past the grove of cedar trees that was used by Native American woman as a healing center, and return back to the start to say goodbye to their new best friends.
When you come out of the forest—dazed and amazed—you only need to bring your head out of the clouds a little, because there is a pop-quiz on the material learned before the hike. If you get an answer correct, you get your very own llama certificate.
If you have little ones, you can still enjoy a llama experience without a hike. The Cria Crawl (cria meaning baby llama in Spanish) takes toddlers ages 3 and up and their parents on a tour of Rowanwood Farm. There is also a more advanced hike for llama adventure graduates.
Learn more at www.rowanwoodfarms.com •