‘Berserk’ llama bites woman

8-year-old daughter watched in horror as animal terrorized Terrebonne resident

Anna Sowa / The Bulletin

Terrebonne resident Nancy Campbell was out for a neighborhood jog Monday night when her 8-year-old daughter, who was riding a bike ahead of her, warned that a brown llama was approaching from behind.

“(Nancy) had barely turned around to face it before it knocked her down,” said Campbell’s husband, Bill.

The llama stomped its feet, spit, bared its teeth and bit her. It eventually took five people to subdue the animal described by state police as brown, hairy and aggressive.

The llama suffered from a rare behavioral problem called “berserk llama syndrome,” veterinarians treating the animal said Wednesday. An Oregon State Police log said the llama escaped five days earlier from its owner’s fenced yard in north Terrebonne. With the owner’s permission, veterinarians euthanized it Tuesday.

Bill Campbell said his daughter, Carly, watched in horror as the llama attacked her mother around 6 p.m. Monday.

Nancy Campbell tried to fight off the animal, which soon turned its attention to Carly, who was hysterically crying nearby.

After trying to protect herself, Nancy Campbell fought to keep the llama away from her daughter, the police log stated. Campbell forced her body between the llama and Carly, instructing the girl to ride her bike home, the husband said.

Once Carly made it home and told her father what had happened, Bill Campbell left to help his wife. Carly stayed home.

“When I got there, it was still trying to attack Nancy and to be aggressive,” he said. “Every time she moved away, he came toward her.”

The beast’s ears were perked and it bared its long teeth and spit, he said.

Bill Campbell’s presence eventually distracted the llama, following him half a block away, where other neighbors distracted it further until they could rope it by the neck and tie it to a tree.

By the time Humane Society of Redmond staff made it to the scene to take the animal, State Humane Agent Carl Quigley said five people were struggling to hold the 5-foot-5-inch, 250-pound animal down. It took four people to carry him into the horse trailer.

Bill Campbell said his wife didn’t suffer any physical injuries, besides some bumps and scrapes, and is seeking medical attention today. She was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Carly is in shock from witnessing her mother’s attack, he added, and has been having nightmares.

The family is not currently filing charges against llama owner Connie Martin, Bill Campbell said. Veterinarians said anyone bitten by the llama is unlikely to contract rabies because bats are the only known animal in Oregon to carry rabies.

Berserk

The llama was not well, according to veterinarians.

“We had to heavily sedate him before we could even euthanize him,” said Dr. Rachel Eaton, a mobile vet specializing in llamas and alpacas who was called to treat the Terrebonne llama.

Eaton said berserk llama syndrome typically affects uncastrated llamas by the time they hit puberty. While no one knows for sure why it happens, the disease is most likely to occur in llamas that were handled too much as babies, Eaton said. It makes the pack animals attach to humans instead of their herd.

“It’s really an unfortunate thing,” she said. “A lot of people raised them and cuddled with them — the llama is their best friend. But they still can become quite dangerous.”

Berserk llamas can be aggressive and scary, she said, and have been known to maul people. Whereas a normal llama would curiously and timidly approach someone standing near its fence, a berserk llama would charge at the intruder, Eaton said.

“They just click and they will attack and hurt people,” Eaton said, adding that in her 10 years practicing, she’s put down four berserk llamas in Central Oregon.

“Llamas are usually like cats — they are curious, but like to keep their distance,” she said. “But the second it turns and comes after you and starts biting, you know it’s trouble.”

Even if a llama is acting aggressively, it would most likely attack a man or another male animal, Eaton said. The fact that he attacked a woman and her young daughter is strong evidence that he wasn’t acting normal.

Once llamas go berserk, the best option is to euthanize them, Eaton said, as no cure exists.

Martin, the llama’s owner, refused to comment Wednesday, but confirmed that she had adopted the animal a month earlier from an animal rescue agency. She said in the police log that she didn’t know how to take care of it and was afraid of it herself.

Fangs

Martin’s roughly 3- to 5-year-old llama had its fighting teeth, located behind its chewing teeth, Eaton said. Llamas use them to maul other males, and most llama owners have the razor-sharp fangs removed when they come in — around age 2.

Once someone grinds them down to nubs, the teeth typically won’t grow back after the animal’s testosterone levels are reduced, Eaton said, which is why castration is so important.

“If you have a male that’s showing these tendencies,” Eaton said, “you should castrate it.”

Berserk llama disease is rare, and 99 percent of pet llamas let loose wouldn’t go on an aggressive rampage, Eaton said.

“People who have llamas or who live next door to llamas shouldn’t be worried,” she said. “Llamas are very independent and curious. In general, they are very standoffish.”

If anyone sees a llama that is acting like it’s ready to attack, Eaton says they should call the humane society immediately.

The animals aren’t known to jump fences, Eaton said, but have been known to occasionally slip under an electric fence.

“Usually, you can keep them in with just one strand of electric fence (set) chest high,” she said.

Most llama owners use the long-necked animals as simple backyard pets or to guard their livestock because llamas are good protection against dogs and coyotes, Eaton said. They also are bred for their hair, although llama fiber isn’t as coveted as alpaca fiber. Alpacas are of the same genus as llamas, but are considered a different species, Eaton said. The smaller alpacas produce softer and better-crimped fiber, she added.

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