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Berserk Syndrome in Alpacas

Read on for insight into what berserk syndrome is, how it manifests and how to prevent it.

What is Berserk Syndrome?

Berserk Syndrome is the term used to describe an alpaca or llama that has become unruly, displaying boisterous, overly inquisitive, excitable and/or aggressive behaviour and, as a result, has become unmanageable and deemed unsafe to handle or even approach from a distance.

Symptoms of Berserk Syndrome

Alpacas considered to have berserk syndrome display symptoms such as jumping or rearing up at people, biting, spitting, flipping their tail over their back and dipping their neck into a 'U' position, pushing into or charging at people, appearing overly confident, attempting to push people over and, if successful, progress to trampling and screaming. Females may also display a disinterest in males presented to them for mating, when the time arises. 

Why has my alpaca gone berserk?

Berserk syndrome usually begins to manifest from a young age, when a young alpaca is overhandled and mollycoddled. Overhandled young alpacas develop strong bonds with humans and, through this misplaced imprinting, they miss out on learning important herd social skills, which in turn results in them having difficulty distinguishing between their own species and humans and when they reach sexual maturity (around 2 - 4 years old) they will challenge humans as if they were an alpaca playmate or rival. This behaviour may be considered normal and safe when directed at another alpaca, but is not safe for humans to be on the receiving end of! Berserk syndrome is more often seen in bottle fed cria due to the increased attention they received at a young age and occurs more often in males than females.

Although incredibly tempting to handle, cuddle and coo over young alpacas, you should avoid doing this, as it can lead to an alpaca developing berserk syndrome - which is not so cute when the they weigh up to 95KG and start throwing their weight around, wielding sharp fighting teeth! Also frustrating if a potential breeding female will not take to a male.

How to prevent Berserk Syndrome

To prevent berserk syndrome developing, don't overhandle young cria, leave cria to bond with their dam and fellow alpacas, keep alpacas in groups of at least 3 or more to enable them to learn important herd social skills and avoid boredom that may lead to them seeking out human companionship, push away over interested cria, avoid getting eye level with young alpacas regularly and, if needed, bottle feed from behind. Continue to discourage any overzealous behaviour as the alpaca grows by pushing them away, extending an arm out to stop them approaching and/or walking away and limiting human contact.

It is important to remember that young animals that are nervous of people and want to spend time with their mothers are completely and utterly normal and human interaction with these young animals should not be forced.

Can berserk syndrome be corrected?

If spotted early enough, as it is developing, berserk syndrome may be corrected by discouraging certain behaviours. Castration may be considered for adolescent males to reduce the symptoms of berserk syndrome, but may not be effective, and unfortunately for fully grown adult alpacas where berserk syndrome has bedded in and their behaviour is causing safety concerns, euthanasia may be the only option. Therefore, it is vitally important to prevent berserk syndrome from occurring in the first instance.

Disclaimer: Fostings Alpacas are not a veterinarian body. Always consult your vet when creating a health plan for your herd and before administering medication.


Learn how to look after alpacas

This 95 page E-Guide is packed full of information for new and prospective alpaca keepers, covering Alpaca 101, Requirements, Diet & Pasture Management, Husbandry Tasks, Disease & Parasites and an Introduction to Breeding & Cria Care. Download upon purchase so you can dive straight in! For the full contents list and to get your copy, click the image below.



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