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.

It is killing whatever term you choose to call it.

Our complex attitudes to killing animals

Deep down in our consciences those of us with any empathy to animals are obviously uncomfortable about the act of killing them which manifests itself in our confused use of expressions to describe it. Whether a professional or layman, we seem to have a subconscious hang-up about discussing or contemplating what we mostly view as a taboo subject. For those with little empathy and who enjoy killing animals for fun and entertainment there is no issue

If we kill a fellow human without justification, we call it murder, and it is viewed a heinous crime unless legitimised by war, when we tend to use the word kill. When we deliberately and brutally kill a large group of humans, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group, we use the terms genocide or massacre and when we legally terminate the life of a condemned person, we execute them. We almost exclusively reserve these words to describe human on human killing, but when it involves animals, for some inexplicable reason we refrain from using such terms as they appear to offend our sensibilities and prick our consciences if used in this context.

Instead we prefer to use more agreeable phraseology that we feel befits the occasion and the type of animal involved, such is our idiosyncratic approach to killing millions of them each day. In order to appease our sensibilities, we even manage to categorise certain animal groups as being more worthy of our compassion.

hunting, shooting, country pursuit

The act of euthanasia for companion animals has become almost a ritual”

The most popular generic term for the act of killing an animal is euthanasia, which derives from the Greek words Eu and thanotos meaning ‘well killing’ or ‘good killing’ and has been used since the 1600’s to describe mercy killing of both humans and animals. We tend to reserve its usage for companion animals, particularly dogs and cats, which we hold in more reverence because we view them as almost human family members and our friends.

The act of euthanasia for companion animals has become almost a ritual, carried out with extreme compassion, sensitivity and veneration as suits such a situation, and it is usually performed by a qualified veterinarian in calm circumstances by injection, and with a familiar face present, often in the owners’ home, and is as humane as possible, so different to the way we treat other animals in their final moment.

Some people though, still find this term too severe and so we use more assuaging phrases such as ‘putting to sleep’ or ‘putting out of its misery’, to make it appear less callous when we are discussing it, as though in some irrational way it makes it a more pleasant experience for both the animal and ourselves.

When it concerns farmed food animals our sympathies change, and we go out of our way to distance ourselves from any emotion or guilt. For a start we call them livestock instead of animals, live’ because we have to accept they are living creatures but alsostock’ because we need the assurance that they are also a commodity for us to utilise. We then employ the somewhat ruthless word of ‘slaughter’, the definition of which, in the context of humans, is brutal killing, but with animals just means killing for meat. Slaughter is of course an apt description as it is a rather brutal and ruthless death no matter how humanely done. We are also happy to use the same term for the place where the carnage takes place, so we call it a slaughterhouse in preference to a ‘euthanasia-house’ which we obviously find strangely unsettling because of its inference to pet animals.

We find using the word ‘harvesting’ more agreeable for the act of wholesale slaughter of animals.

When it involves wildlife our compassion unaccountably changes again, and we choose tocull them and the heartlessness of this term is borne out by the word’s definition which is ‘removing an inferior person or thing from a group’ and ‘something regarded as worthless, especially an unwanted or inferior animal removed from a herd’. Culling can involve just an individual, a certain species or millions of individuals.

Conservationists appear to find the word culling a little harsh in certain instances, so they find the term ‘harvesting’ more agreeable for the act of wholesale slaughter, usually with the tag that it is implemented in their long-term interest. But it doesn’t end there as different professions where killing animals is intrinsic also try to ease their sensibilities by using other phrases such as humane killing, hunting, management euthanasia and zoonasia.

We are psychologically uneasy about the killing of animals.

It is obvious that as a society we are uneasy with our various deeds of ending their lives and prefer to distance ourselves from any thoughts of their demise, but it doesn’t stop us from committing animal genocide the world over. The bottom line is that whichever term we choose to use they all mean the same thing – the intentional and premature ending of the life of a living creature.

As already mentioned, when it is time to put companion animals ‘to sleep‘ the procedure is treated with great compassion, sensitivity and veneration as it should be, but it does seem a pity that we cannot extend the same deference to all animals by at least giving them the courtesy of using the same terminology.

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