“Llilas is giving birth — and I don’t think it’s going well!” Val rushed in to the house on Monday afternoon, and departed immediately carrying a pair of binoculars.
Lilas is our youngest llama, and we had been expecting that she would deliver a baby any time now.
She was born in October 2008 and has always been a friendly, forward llama. She is always ready to engage in scrounging carrots or other delicacies. Her mother is the splendid Elif, and we had been really looking forward to her offspring, thinking they would be likely to show a really attractive blend of characteristics.
I hastily terminated my phone conversation with my daughter in Canada, having promised photos of the new baby, and set off down the track.
At first, all seemed normal enough. Lilas was resting in the shelter of the large oak trees, perhaps taking a break in the process of labour.
As time passed, and there was no evidence of progress, it became clear that this was not to be the typical, problem-free llama birth.
Lilas was intermittently standing up and moving around a little. Something was hanging out of her rear end — perhaps the placenta?
We needed to help her, and that meant that Lenny needed to be shut away to allow us to enter the field in peace. Luckily, he was readily tempted into the catch-pen next to the barn, and firmly shut behind a gate that we hoped he wouldn’t decide to jump.
When we approached Lilas, she greeted us with some apparent relief. She nibbled a few granules of food out of our hands, and got to her feet.
Now we could see that there was going to be no happy event. The baby’s head and front hooves had emerged . . . . and they were hanging limply behind Lilas.
Not only was the baby dead, but she was making no progress with the delivery of the body.
I guess this is the sort of situation that I most dread. One of animals is in distress, and we know that we are ill-equipped to assist.
Val and I did our best. We sought, with some success, to comfort Lilas. We pulled on the baby’s feet, and managed to get the neck and front legs largely delivered. But not enough progress was being made, and Lilas was tiring. Time to get some expert help.
Luckily, we are served by an excellent vet partnership. There are three full-time vets and they offer a 24 hour call-out service. I left a message setting out our situation, and one of the vets called me on my mobile within minutes. After an anxious and depressing wait of a quarter of an hour, the vet arrived. After the obligatory French handshaking and greeting, she was into impressive professional action. She soon had the body delivered and her arm inside Lilas to check out the uterus.
“She should be fine. There is no internal damage.”
I wanted to know why this had happened, but it seems that there is no sensible explanation. A quick examination of the baby’s body showed that the hair was loosening from the skin. The vet reckoned she had died perhaps 48 hours earlier. There really had been nothing we could have done to change the outcome.
In characteristic style, the vet bid a brief farewell, stripping off and abandoning her protective clothing. We were left to remove and bury the body, the placenta and the mundane detritus of the tragedy.
Lilas seemed relieved that it was over. She showed no obvious interest in the body that had emerged from her.
But for several days, she has been very reluctant to leave the area under the trees where her poor dead baby briefly saw the day. Llamas don’t show emotion in ways we can easily recognise, but I have no doubt that she is mourning.
I wish I could comfort her.