Windschnurer, I., Eibl, C., Franz, S. et al. 2020. Alpaca and llama behaviour during handling and its associations with caretaker attitudes and human-animal contact. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 226, 104989.
The behaviour of new world camelids towards humans has received little research attention so far. Our aims were to assess the response of alpacas and llamas to handling, and to investigate its associations with caretaker attitudes and handling practices (i.e., the reported amount of contact to the animals at different ages). Reactions of 116 alpacas and llamas during handling by a familiar person and during a physical examination by a veterinarian were observed on 20 animal holdings. The 20 main caretakers completed or partially completed a questionnaire on their attitudes and their amount of contact to their animals. Data were analysed at farm level by means of Spearman rank correlations. Animals were generally very easy to lead by a familiar person, but a higher proportion showed fear and stress related behaviour, predominantly freezing, during the physical examinations. Associations between caretaker attitudes, amount of contact, and animal behaviour were found. For instance, if the caretakers found tactile contact more pleasant, a lower percentage of animals attempted to flee during leading (rs = -0.51, p < 0.05, n = 18). Likewise, a higher percentage of animals showed no rising or freezing during the physical examination, if the caretakers rated talking to the animals as more important (rs = 0.57 / 0.49, p < 0.05, n = 17), and a higher percentage of animals did not scream and / or squeal, if caretakers rated training as more pleasant (rs = 0.77, p < 0.001, n = 18). Out of the 12 participants rearing young animals, those stroking their animals more frequently in early life had a higher percentage of non-balking animals during leading (rs = 0.64, p < 0.05, n = 12). A higher percentage of animals with handling difficulties and /or attempts to flee was associated with lower frequencies of touching in later life (rs = -0.80, p < 0.01, n = 11). The overall results suggest similar sequential relationships between caretaker attitudes, amount of gentle contact with the animals and the animals’ behaviour, as in other species.