LAVALLETTE – A man was walking some rather tall animals on a leash recently in front of the Upper Shores branch of the Ocean County Library. If you tried to guess what breed the strange dogs were, you’d be barking up the wrong tree.
The man was Joe Campanga of Out of Sight Alpacas of Waretown and he was actually walking two alpacas for a special program at the library which drew a large crowd of adults and children.
The alpacas enjoyed doing a little grazing of the grass before show time. “In addition to alpacas we have other animals. We have pigs, miniature donkeys, ponies, horses, lambs, goats, giant rabbits and even ibis which is a real tall bird. We do farm tours all the time and we’re open to the public,” he said.
Inside the library, he said he would give the crowd “a quick rundown on alpaca facts so you know where they came from, a little about their biology, their behavior.”
He and fellow tour guide Lindsay Broome introduced Chachi, a black-haired alpaca and Harry his brown-haired friend, both of whom came from South America. “Alpacas can live to 18 to 20 years. Chachi is about 10 years old and Harry is about six,” Campanga said.
“Alpacas have been domesticated for about 6,000 years which means people have basically controlled them for that time. In South America they live in the Andes Mountains,” he told the audience.
“These guys are really good at climbing. They don’t have hooves like horses they have two toes on each foot which makes it easier for them to climb up hills and stuff like that. In the Andes Mountains it is very common for the temperature to go from 60 to 80 degrees and at night for it drop down to below freezing,” he said. “They can handle a lot of different temperature swings and the reason they have been domesticated for so long is because of their fleece. You might call it fur but we call it fleece. This is just like wool but this is the best wool in the world.”
“If anyone wears wool socks in the winter time, they are pretty warm but they kind of make your feet a little stinky because they get too hot but that is not the case with alpaca wool which is a lot lighter and it is also hypoallergenic,” he added.
He noted “another cool thing about alpacas is that they are pretty low maintenance. You can’t just have one you have to have at least two and that is because they are herd animals. They need to be around other alpacas just like all of us need to be around other people, at least most of the time.”
In response to one youngster’s question about spitting, Campanga replied, “Yes they do spit. Most of the time they spit, it is mostly just air. It is kind of their way of saying, ‘Hey I’m done with you.’ They have another type of spit which is when they cough up their pre-digested hay and that is going to smell like throw up.”
“They only like eating hay or grass, they really don’t eat much more than that. We try to give them vegetables but they aren’t really crazy about that. They prefer grass of all different types more than anything else.” he added.
Replying to a question about their long eyelashes Campanga said, “That protects their eyes from sand and stuff like that. He also told the audience that “Llamas are much more aggressive than alpacas. Alpacas have a very laid-back attitude and they are very, very gentle and non-hostile but llamas are not that way.”
“Llamas are also a lot bigger. In some countries where they have sheep they will use llamas as guard animals,” Campanga added.