The above photo was shared on social media by the Reid Park Zoo in Tuscon, Arizona earlier this week. Since then, it's gone viral. I've seen it plastered all over the internet, and the last time I checked the Facebook photo had 2000 shares.
The animal in the background is a guanaco ("won-ack-o"); the easiest way to think about it is a wild llama - like the wolf is the wild ancestor of the dog, the guanaco is the wild ancestor of the llama. Like llamas and other members of the camel family, guanacos will spit to express their displeasure. It is a slimy, foul-smelling stuff, which they can fire with considerable accuracy.
Guests at our zoo go in terror of the prospect of being spat upon, right up there with skunk spray it would seem. Some will back up nervously at the sight of a (distant) guanaco or llama. Some kids will even refuse to pass in front of the exhibit without considerable coaxing from their parents. Others - evil little brats - will attempt to spit at the animals ("the best defense is a good offense!"), but thankfully have nowhere near the range of the camelids.
Something that blows the minds of many visitors - I've never been spat upon. Ever. Not in over a decade of working with five of the six camelid species (vicunas have eluded me, alas). I've deserved it, too - I've shorn alpacas (which have no sense of humor about it), wrangled camels for injections, and snatched sickly baby llamas away from their well-meaning but non-milk-producing mothers. No one has ever spat at me, knock on wood. I mean, I've had a spider monkey drop diarrhea in my hair before, and I can't imagine it would be worse than that anyway.
When I see stuff like this online, part of me sighs thinking that it only spreads the spitter stereotype about llamas and their kin. I also grumble about people thinking that the animal is only spitting because it's unhappy with people. Then I sit back, remember to lighten the heck up, and enjoy the funny post. I wonder if we could so something like this at our zoo...
Of course, our animals would have to spit once in a while, first.