Berserk Llama Syndrome (Causes, Prevention, Treatment!) 

Llamas are very friendly and docile creatures. They can be great companions to have, they guard livestock, and bond well with other animals and humans. 

But just like humans, not all llamas are well-behaved. Some llamas might develop a disorder where they turn against and attack their owner. 

This disorder is called the “Berserk Llama Syndrome”.

In this article, you will learn: 

  • What is Berserk Llama Syndrome
  • What causes it
  • How to prevent your llama from getting it
berserk llama syndrome

What Is Berserk Llama Syndrome?

Berserk Llama Syndrome (BLS), also known as Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (ABS), or Berserk Male Syndrome (BMS), is a psychological and behavioral disorder in llamas where the animals show increased aggression towards humans. The syndrome is mostly exhibited by male llamas; females develop it too, but to a lesser degree.

The word berserk comes from the Old Norse word ‘berserkr’, which consists of ber- (“bear”) and ‘serkr’ (“shirt”) – it refers to an ancient Scandinavian warrior that went crazy in battle.

It is another way of saying frenzied, destructively violent, or unrestrained – which certainly applies to llamas with this “rage syndrome”.

In a 2015 Iowa State University survey, out of 28 owners, 22 had BLS animals in their herd. 

Out of those 22, 13 affected animals were llamas, while 10 were alpacas. 95 % of animals with the berserk syndrome were male (21 out of 22 animals).

The BLS is a term that has been around for a long time. Llama Breeder Paul Taylor originally used this term in an article around late 1980, writing:

It seems to be the end result of a series of confusing and negative interactions with humans, beginning with the breakdown of the normal standoffishness that herd-raised llamas show in their relationship to humans.

A berserk llama will scream, charge, spit, bite, and lay on top of people – the animal might even kill.

Many people will label a llama as berserk; this is not always the case though. Many of these animals are simply misbehaving. They are just spoiled, bad-mannered, and disrespectful “brats”. They remind me of myself back in my high-school days.

Symptoms of this disease can be seen in young animals. Usually, at a young age, they will follow you everywhere, get into your face, pull your clothes, flip their tail, and bend their necks when around you. 

At first, you might find it cute, sometimes a bit obnoxious. But if you notice your llama running across the field when it sees you, only to breathe in your face, you should be on alert. When such llama grows up, there’s a chance it might attack you; in most cases without a warning.

Berserk Llama Symptoms:

  • “Over friendliness” at a young age
  • The llama follows you everywhere
  • It blows into your face
  • It is always around you, being too “cuddly” and wants to be petted
  • Flips its tail
  • Bends its neck 
  • Bumps with its chest against people
  • Runs at you from behind your back
  • Pushes you with its neck
  • Spits, kicks, and bites at the older age

Normal llamas shun attention from humans. Be cautious if your llama acts like a tail-wagging dog. 

Berserk Llama Syndrome Causes 

A Berserk syndrome is usually developed in llama babies that have been given too much attention when young. The owner will spend too much time around the cria (baby), bottle-feed it, and the llama will imprint on the human that it is a fellow llama. Instead of socializing with other llamas, it bonds with humans.

When such babies grow up, they will still not make a difference between their owner and other llamas. And llamas are very territorial animals. They will do their best to chase off and show dominance over the intruder. In this case, their human owner. 

When these maladjusted llamas become sexually mature, they will treat a human just as they would another male. That’s why a berserk llama will be completely out of control and dangerously aggressive. They will charge and push the owner around with their neck or chest. They might spit, bite, or sneak up and attack from behind. 

human training llamas
Human training llamas

Here’s a real-life story of a veterinarian that had contact with such an animal.

One calf became an orphan because of a problem with its legs. It had marked laxity of the joints of its leg and couldn’t stand on its feet to suckle. Because of that, his mother abandoned him and this cria became an orphan.

The owner took the animal, gave it a name, and raised it as a companion; the animal had no contact with other llamas. 

From time to time, the llama would stick its nose into everything and would try to be in the center of attention. The owner found it cute and charming. He did nothing to correct the animal’s behavior. 

As the animal grew, it became pushy. It would skip over other animals and demand to be fed first.

After the llama became an adult, in one situation, it charged the veterinarian; just like a male llama would do when in a rut. The llama was screaming, had its mouth wide open, and was ready to bite. It tried to push the veterinarian into the fence. 

Fortunately for him, he had a lead rope in his hand, which helped him avoid the animal’s charge and escape over the fence. If it weren’t for the rope, he could have been severely injured or even killed by the llama”.

This behavior is very common in all South American camelids that become maladjusted to humans at an early age (berserk male syndrome, imprinted male), not just llamas. Alpacas also develop the berserk syndrome.

Berserk Llama Syndrome Prevention And Treatment 

The first step to the prevention of the BLS is awareness. Humans tend to misinterpret the beginnings of aggressive behavior for friendliness. At a young age, llama owners should discourage this disrespectful behavior (nose bumping, rearing up, wrapping legs around the owner’s waist, etc.).

To prevent the berserk syndrome, you should never bottle-feed males. If you are forced to feed them, you should do it with other members of the herd around. Also, llama raisers should allow younglings to live in a llama society. If necessary, caretakers may supply milk, but they should avoid caresses and tenderness at all costs.

Veterinarians recommended that orphaned males that have been given extensive human attention be castrated by two months of age or, at the latest, before weaning.

You should note that castration of adult males is not as effective in changing abnormal behavior, as it is in other animals like bulls and stallions.

What To Do When A Llama Shows Berserk Syndrome?

If the owner does not set the boundaries of what is allowed early on, he/she should not slap the animal, push it away every time it comes near, or yell “No, bad boy!”.

The owner should put their hand with their palm facing the animal and say “Stop” or “Stay back” the first couple of times this youngster invades their personal space without permission.

You do not need to scare the animal away; you need to be clear about not allowing the animal to invade your personal space. 

Pushing the animal away or yelling at it when it approaches you is a mistake. You should speak firmly and powerfully, put your hand towards the animal and tell the young animal to stay back. 

Veterinarians recommend that you avoid using “No” as it is useless as a command.

To fend the llama that is rubbing, pushing, or both, veterinarians recommend using a water gun toy or a frisbee. You can water blast them on the face until they learn how to behave or use the frisbee with a very short bop on the nose along with a firm “Stay back!”.

It might be even a good idea to move a single baby llama to another llama farm during the first few months of its life. This might cause some inconveniences, but can also prevent the aberrant behavior syndrome, both in males and females.

In a normal and healthy herd, other llamas will discipline youngs that invade adult space, thus creating respect.

A common mistake llama owners make is the excess use of force on llamas with this syndrome. This usually stems from the attitude: I will show you who’s the boss. This is a mistake as aggression only creates problems.

A better idea would be to set limits, respect the animals, avoid demanding too much from it, and use training methods that do not rely on using force or intimidation.

Berserk Llama Syndrome Video

Here’s a video of a llama being too pushy and bumping into people with their chests. 

Final Thoughts

This concludes our article on Berserk Llama Syndrome. In this article, we explained that BLS is a psychological disorder in young llamas that are given too much attention at a young age. When they grow up, they imprint on humans that they are llamas and charge at them. 

The main cause of the berserk llama syndrome is giving too much attention to the animal at an early age, and not socializing the animal with other llamas. To prevent and cure the syndrome, llamas are usually castrated and trained heavily to eradicate this bad behavior.

References

[1] Ball, Stephen R., et al. “Survey-Based Examination of Demographics, Potential Causes and Treatments of Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (Berserk Male Syndrome) in Camelids.” Animal Industry Report 661.1 (2015): 70.

[2] DRANSART, PENELOPE. “CHAPTER THREE ANIMALS AND THEIR POSSESSIONS: PROPERTIES OF HERD ANIMALS IN THE ANDES AND EUROPE PENELOPE DRANSART.” Animals and Science: From Colonial Encounters to the Biotech Industry (2020): 84.

[3] Harmon, David A. “Llama packing: A guide for the low impact use of llamas in the backcountry.” (1989).

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