Berserk Male Syndrome (BMS) is a phrase which was coined by a llama breeder and caught on with the rest of the industry. This term has been overused and applied to many llamas who were not actually berserk. As with any behavior problem, there is a wide range in the severity of expression. A true Berserk Male is a male llama who has been imprinted on people, is very territorial and aggressive and is uncurable. A Berserk Male will pace the fencelines screaming and spitting at anyone who comes nearby. They are very dangerous if anyone enters their pen/pasture. They will treat people as if they were a threatening llama and begin chest butting, knocking people down, biting them and grabbing at their legs and trying to wrestle. This is the extreme form of this behavior problem and is relatively rare. Usually only males reach this severity, but females can still be affected. Most llama breeders have not dealt with a llama like this.
BMS is presumably the result of a male llama who was abnormally socialized to people. This results from bottle feeding, isolation from the rest of the herd and excessive handling without discipline. These male crias are imprinted upon people and essentially see them as another llama in the herd. By viewing people as llamas, these crias naturally communicate with people by using llama behaviors like spitting, chest butting and wrestling. Once these males reach puberty, they become more territorial. People are a threat to their "control" over the herd and they become more aggressive. normally these behaviors are directed towards other males, but because these llamas were imprinted on people, people become the target too.
A true Berserk Male leads a miserable life and is a danger to his caretakers. These llamas usually have to be euthanized. This is an uncommon occurance.
The initial reccomendations for prevention of BMS were extreme. Breeders were told not to handle crias at all until 5 to 6 months of age. This was not the answer either. Crias still end up abnormally socialized to people because they aren't socialized at all. Llamas are presumably like any other animal and have a period of accelerated learning and socialization periods. In this scenario, the only contact crias have with humans is to get vaccinated and dewormed. This teaches the crias that all interaction with people is painful and frightening. Breeders would already have a barrier of distrust to overcome once they begin training. Granted, llamas were not growing up and attacking people, but they had the potential to be fearful and distrustful of people. It certainly did not provide the interaction that most owners desired.
Preventing Inappropriate Behavior:
Yes, there are llamas with behavior problems which resulted from their socialization and training while they were young. Very few are dangerous and very few are Berserk. Most are just a nuisance and have inappropriate behaviors which are correctable. They may be llamas who only spit at people who approach their food. They may be llamas who follow people around the field looking for kisses without being pushy. They may be llamas who are somewhat pushy for attention without being overly aggressive or dangerous. You may have one of these llamas or met one visiting another farm. They are not Berserk and are not dangerous. Sometimes males may be more aggressive than most because of their personality or even as a result of improper training or abnormal socialization. They can usually be safely dealt with by an experienced llama handler. An aggressive male does not equal a Berserk Male.
Signs of a future behavior problem:
If you are having problems getting a cria to mind his or her manners, a llama training book or seminar would be enourmously helpful. Check the llama publications for event and book listings.
Last updated on September 21, 1997