Alpacas the new unwanted.

There has been a trend in the last decade or so to keep Alpacas to farm and as pets. It has become “trendy” in the last decade for people who live or move to the countryside and have a spare field to acquire them as a hobby. Where and why this started is difficult to understand, but it appears to be based on a romantic idyll of selling the wool and taking up weaving. 

Baby alpacas are relatively cute in the eyes of many people and one can see their appeal. They are described in many blog articles and advertisements as being adorable which is perhaps going a bit far. They are not a companion pet or a pet of any sort, but classified more in the exotic livestock category and even less suitable than keeping a sheep, cow or pig would be. And when full grown many cease to look that cute or attractive.

Even Facebook and Gum tree run adverts for unwanted ones.

The dream of owning these animals is popular in the USA, Canada, Australia and the U.K., with the aim of making money from their fur or breeding and selling them. Unfortunately for many the reality soon kicks in when they find them a lot more difficult and expensive to look after than they imagined. It is not just restricted to alpacas but includes emus, ostriches, llamas and goats. 

Alpacas have now joined the sad long list of the unwanted animals with sites like Facebook and Gum Tree running adverts for unwanted ones. To meet the demand new alpaca charity rescue centres are springing up in all these countries with the inevitable plea for donations. New homes need to be found which isn’t easy as they need space, special care and are expensive to keep. Many alpacas are being neglected or cruelly treated and so SPCA’s in the U.K., Canada, America and Australia are having to get involved and owners are being prosecuted. And all this because of this misguided romantic dream by people of keeping them.

In the USA and Canada farming alpacas was heavily marketed and the industry expanded too quickly with people trying to cash in on the popularity of alpaca wool and garments. It wasn’t long before production outstripped the demand for alpaca wool – something known as a ‘speculative livestock bubble’. Alpaca keepers and breeders soon found themselves in financial difficulties and unable to offload their animals, not even by giving them away. They cost anywhere from £200 for a male to thousands of pounds for a female. Some unfortunates end up being slaughtered for their meat. Some rescues have seen a threefold increase in the number of unwanted and abandoned ones recently with one rescue centre rehoming 405 since 2008. 

People are attracted to them by their ‘cuteness’

alpaca foal, cute, unsuitable pet
Cuteness personified, but wait until it grows up. Alpacas are not suitable pets.

So before buying alpacas think about this…

  • Alpacas need to live as a herd with a minimum of three or four animals;
  • Three or four alpacas require at least two acres of pasture;
  • You require a veterinary surgeon with expertise in dealing with them, preferably a member of the British Veterinary Camelid Society (BVCS)
  • They require shearing, worming and vaccinating yearly;
  • Their fur and nails need clipping every two months;
  • They need to have access to shelter;
  • They need dietary supplements;
  • They can be difficult to handle and may not like being cuddled or stroked;
  • THEY ARE NOT COMPANION PETS.

Alpacas and llamas are best left to live in South America.

Alpacas, alpaca herd, unsuitable pet
Alpacas are probably best left on their native South America tundra.

Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.