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Just llooking for a llittle llove

Published Oct. 4, 2005

How do you know when romantically inclined llamas are about to pounce?

It's when they look at you, slick their hair back and say in those velvety, syrupy tones, "Chu look mah-velous . . . just mah-velous."

(Get it? Saturday Night Live? Billy Crystal doing Fernando Lamas? Oh well, you should have seen the even more obscure Monty Python line I had in mind.)

Now that we know that Connie Brass is going to be okay, and that even she had a sense of humor about being attacked by a llama that some authorities say is in serious need of gelding, we can allow a joke or two.

Percy, the llama that attacked Brass earlier this month at the Weeki Wachee Spring attraction, was just doing what comes naturally to llamas at a certain age and with backgrounds of human contact.

It seems, the experts say, he was suffering from Berserk Male Syndrome, a condition resulting from the advent of puberty and a conditioned inability to distinguish humans from other llamas.

It didn't take the magic words "Berserk Male Syndrome" too long to make the complete newsroom joke circuit, the general feeling among women being that "berserk" and "male" are redundant terms.

And, sensitive as I am to what some would call the gender wars, I have to agree.

My father trains horses, and has real horror tales (and the insurance premiums to support them) about stallions who remain stallions too long. Female trainers reportedly have difficulties working with male dolphins at certain times, and it is never a friend's female dog that finds it has developed a sudden attachment to your pants leg.

And, among humans, it is much more frequently the adolescent male of the species who feels suddenly compelled to put his hat on backward and bother people in shopping malls. And the balance of aggressive conduct among humans is still tilted strongly toward the male.

For llamas anyhow, BMS, according to the authors of an article in Llamas magazine, is an almost exclusively male problem. Females, according to the article by Sue Rolfing and Sheron Herriges, occasionally become obnoxious and pushy, "but it's a different type of aggression and is more of an annoyance than anything else."

Of course, being of the male persuasion myself, I tend to get a little edgy when the perceived cure for all alleged failings of the gender is castration. Couldn't we just talk?

I sometimes wonder if, at least in the animal kingdom, difficulties aren't just as traceable to our tendency to misread animals and ascribe to them either human traits, or those of more docile animals to animals we don't know that much about.

Everybody loves pandas, psychologists say, because they have round faces _ which we tend to associate with babies _ and they just look cuddly. Actually, they are cranky, nasty and have sex only once a year, which may account for the first two qualities.

Ask any park ranger, in a state where there are still bears, how many times a week he has to stop a tourist from yelling, "Oh, aren't they cute," and running with outstretched sandwich toward something that looks like the stuffed toys that never ever had a case of the post-hibernation grumps.

Elk have been known to sexually assault small automobiles, and to trample people who make the mistake of making eye contact with them.

Animals on display are, except to their handlers, a different matter, but I think a good rule of thumb is, as the saying goes, never try to teach a pig to sing. Pigs are anatomically incapable of the type of vocalization required for song.

And it annoys the pig.