Inca had the right idea for wellbeing: Llamas

The other side

with Andrew Roe

Earlier this year, Stats NZ released the disturbing findings of its 2021 survey on the mental wellbeing of New Zealanders.

“The proportion of people with poor mental wellbeing equates to more than a quarter of the population,” work and wellbeing statistics senior manager Becky Collett said at the time. Back in 2018, 22% of the population were judged as having poor mental wellbeing, and this had worryingly risen to 28% just three years later.

No doubt many factors contributed to this concerning trend, including the flow-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing cost of living and the announcement that Neighbourswas winding up.

In an attempt to reverse the trend, the Government has earmarked $100 million for mental health services over the next four years. But, in my opinion, there is one important aspect that it is completely failing to address. And that, of course, is the critical shortage of llamas in this country.

A couple of weeks ago Sam and I went public with the fact that we are llama farmers, when we brought Ziggy, our hand-reared yearling llama (and our pride and joy!), along to the A&P show. Anyone who had not previously benefited from a little llama therapy had the opportunity to snuggle into Ziggy’s thick, lustrous coat, feel his gentle, soft muzzle on their cheek and, most importantly, experience the amazing calming influence that cuddling a llama can have.

Llamas come from the Andean highlands of South America where they were domesticated by the Inca people six to seven thousand years ago.

When you consider that according to some prominent scholars of the Old Testament, this is about the same time as Adam and Eve were hanging out in the Garden of Eden, you realise that it was a fair while back!

For the most part the Incas were a fairly peaceful people, thanks largely, I am sure, to the calming effect of their llamas. And maybe the fact that they invented cocaine. But mainly their llamas. For anyone lucky enough to visit Machu Picchu, the sacred Incan religious site in the Peruvian mountains, it is a common occurrence to have your perfect shot of the awe-inspiring vista photo-bombed by a llama casually strolling past.

Coming from the Andes, llamas do not need gentle terrain or high-quality pasture to survive. In fact, they are ideally suited to some of the steeper, less productive parts of farms in our region, freeing up the better country for planting pine trees.

We often get asked what the difference is between an alpaca and a llama. I used to joke that llamas are like alpacas, just a lot bigger and more pointless.

But we soon realised that they do have value. Not in an economic sense like farming sheep and cattle, but in an emotional sense. If you have had a rough time at work, feeling run down or depressed, it is amazing how your spirits can be lifted by some one-on-one time with a llama.

The mental wellbeing of New Zealanders could be readily enhanced if more people had access to llama therapy. Got drama? Hug a llama!