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;

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.

“Saving Britain’s Worst Zoo.”

BBC documentary “Saving Britain’s Worst Zoo” highlights what is so wrong with our attitude to zoos.

There shouldn’t be a ‘worst’ zoo in the UK in the first place.

BBC Wales and iPlayer are showing a documentary series Saving Britains Worst Zoo” which depicts how a family buy a zoo called ‘Animalarium’ in Wales even though they admit We didn’t have any idea of what we were doing.” There shouldn’t be a worst zoo in the first place if licensing authorities and inspectors were doing their job properly. So where were they and how can it be possible to allow such people to buy a zoo with dangerous animals? Do we really take public and animal safety so lightly.

“a place in the deepest depths of no-onesville very much like a zoo where species of a non-human form are kept and caged…and often escape”

ANIMALARIUM – Urban Dictionary definition.

In 2016 a zoo called Animalarium in the town of Borth, Wales came up for sale and was bought by a couple who by their own admission didn’t have any experience and within two years animals had escaped and died and they ran up a £350,000 debt. But sadly it appears few people see any problem or query how this could happen in our country of animal lovers with all our animal protection laws.

This is particularly so with the BBC, who appear to be encouraging such actions by not just showing one program but a whole series to advertise the zoo. The owners were interviewed on the BBC Breakfast show on the 23 July 2019 with smiles and commendation for their honesty as though they were some kind of heroes.

Borth Zoo or to use its hip name of Animalarium was sold by its owners of 15 years in 2016. In their media advertising of the sale they described who they were willing to sell to in this way:

“I would expect them to have at least some interest or experience and to research what running a zoo actually entails. The practical problems are a cross between running a boarding school and a prison. Anyone interested in the sale needs to have some experience of keeping exotic animals, but not necessarily from a zoo background as the staff are all experienced. Running a zoo is hard work but very rewarding.”

“We didn’t have any idea of what we were doing”

The family who bought the zoo were an “animal-mad couple” with three children who always wanted to live in Wales and were quoted as saying “we wanted a small petting farm to do animal and people therapy. We had 40 animals before we moved. We used to breed tortoises and had chickens, rabbits, chinchillas, everything. We didn’t have much of an idea what we were doing but everything I don’t know I research.” It would appear they also bought it as it had a nice two bedroom bungalow with sea views and of course they were animal lovers and had owned pets so had all the experience they needed to take on a zoo.

Should such animals be in the hands of people who do not what they are doing.

Their initial inept attempts at operating a zoo led to escapes and deaths of animals. In October 2017, a lynx escaped for 12 days before being shot in case it harmed “children.” A week later a staff member managed to strangle another lynx with a catch-pole (a rope noose on a pole) which was described as an accident but was probably due to lack of training in using such an implement. In the case of the escaped Lynx it was two days before they noticed it missing because the enclosure was apparently too overgrown to spot it. It seemed not to occur to them to search the enclosure in case it was sick, injured or dead.

At this point the local authority intervened and closed the zoo to the public for five months while they made over 26 improvements allegedly running up a debt of £350,000. Initially their licence to keep dangerous animals such as the lions and leopard was withdrawn but later reinstated. The zoo was obviously rundown when they bought it which doesn’t say much for the local authority licensing officers who should have been checking it. Inexplicably, the ban on keeping dangerous “category one” animals was then lifted by Ceredigion council as long as a qualified keeper was present. But why wasn’t there a qualified keeper in the first place?

The park’s owners claim that they act like a rescue centre for exotic animals and take in unwanted pets and animals from other zoos to provide them with a safe place to live for the rest of their lives. But how safe are their long term prospects.

One could pardon them on account of their naivety and put it all down as a steep learning curve, but at what cost. At least two lives of beautiful lynxes were lost while they learned on the job. Do we really take such lives so lightly. Should we be allowing the sale of zoos and similar animal attractions to anyone who feels they want to own one despite their experience and qualification. I blame the local authorities and lack of regulation for the deaths of the two lynxes.

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