Monthly Report of The Science Officer

February 2001 

The dictionary describes the llama as: "S. American woolly-haired ruminant used as beast of burden". In short, it's a long-necked, sheepy packhorse. What's more, it is nimble footed, and able to travel over rough terrain. They have been used successfully in the United States on trekking expeditions such as canyon walks.

The Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team currently has around forty four nimble footed beasts of burden. They are two-legged, and are not quite so woolly. (Although a couple of members have been described as being somewhat on the shaggy side.)  None of the current members can carry as much load as a llama without a great deal of complaining. 

The Science Officer decided to recruit a llama as a probationary member of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team.  Until recently, this would have been relatively simple. There used to be a Llama farm in the Ennerdale valley. Unfourtunately, the llama have been moved to Wales.   Eventually, after a great deal of phoning around, the Brigham Wlldlife center agreed to supply their only llama for one weekend. The llama was a 3 year old female called Cindy.  According to the owners, Cindy enjoyed fresh vegetables such as cabbages, turnips and carrots.

Permission was given to temporarily locate Cindy in a field at Wasdale Head. Honest Howard at the hotel in Wasdale kindly volunteered to oversee the feeding of the animal. Marrahs Farm near Gosforth had a large quantity of turnips left over from Christmas. They kindly donated three large sacks to Howard for ten pounds.

On the Friday evening however, Howard called to say that Cindy did n't appear to like turnips.   After some feverish phone calls, Wha Maddas Farm near Eskdale kindly agreed to supply a quantity of brussel sprouts for a very reasonable price. The Science Officer quickly drove these over to Honest Howard's Hotel to prevent Cindy from getting hungry. It must be said that the suede surprise soup at the Hotel was rather good that night.


That Saturday morning, the first Wasdale llama trials begin with some intrepidation. Richard Webmaster had very kindly provided a fur-lined leather harness that could be adapted for the purpose of attaching a simple load to Cindy. (The fur would be make it more comfortable.) It still has not been explained exactly what the harness's original purpose was, but it was a most generous contribution.


Unfourtunately Cindy did not like the idea one bit. At midday, an ear-nibbled Science Officer hobbled back to the Hotel to seek inspiration, Elastoplast, and some TCP. Over a very reasonably priced bowl of Dutch cabbage soup, Honest Howard suggested that perhaps the diet was not quite correct. Howard had recently read that South American llamas were fed on a diet of fresh onions to make them more jovial. Not wishing further encounters with an unhappy llama, the Science Officer made further phonecalls, and was kindly donated a large sack of onions from Assa Madda Farm near Holmerook...


...After a short afternoon visit to the local Accident and Emergency unit for some stitches and a chest X-ray, the Science Officer decided that the onions did not appear to work on a Cumbrian llama, and returned to the hotel for further consultation. That evening, the fine Onion soup at special offer was something of a consolation, and worked wanders for bruised ribs.


Honest Howard suggested that carrots had not been tried yet. Some more phonecalls revealed that Aawyah Madda Farm had a surplus of carrots that they were quite happy to donate at a reduced price.


Much to the relief of the Science Officer, Cindy was found to have a deep affinity for carrots. By the end of Sunday morning, the harness had been successfully fitted with the help of a continuous supply of carrots.


Unfourtunately, the only way that the llama could be led, was with the offer of further carrots. The carrot consumption rate before loading, was one carrot every 20 metres. It was calculated that this would work out at around 50 carrots per kilometre.


Allowing for a 10 Km range, a total of 500 carrots would need to be carried. This is a mass of around 30 Kg. Assuming that an average llama can carry about 25kg of carrots, 5kg of carrots would have to be carried by two-legged Wasdale Team Members. This somewhat defeated the point of using a llama in the first place.


Honest Howard was most enthusiastic about a full trial, and began the search for a carrot supplier. Unfourtunately, he had just clinched a deal with Laal Madda farm near Drigg for 2 Kilometres worth of carrots, when the owners arrived to take Cindy home.


Saying goodbye to Cindy was a painful experience, and after another trip to Accident and Emergency, a debriefing was carried out at the Hotel.


Howard was still enthusiastic about the project, and volunteered to head up another training session around the weekend of the Carrot Eaters Annual Meet in early June.

The Science Officer remained unconvinced, although Howard suggested that the Science Officer should not pass final judgement on this groundbreaking project until he had fully recovered from his current state of mild concussion.


That evening's special of Carrot casserole was most memorable.


David Kennedy

Team member

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