Tuesday 24 May 2011: Strangers in the valley
"You stay there girls, I'll check this out."
"Take care Al, they might be dangerous!"
"Pack it in doll, I'll be fine - ooh, I'm not so sure..."
Yes, they're alpacas, one of my favourite animals ever. They live in a secluded valley, way off the beaten track, where I go to visit them every now and again. Each time I feel a mounting excitement as I approach, hoping they will be there. Usually I spot their piles of poo first (they use communal latrines), then I hear a sharp whistle of alarm and one (presumably the male) hesitantly edges forward, the rest staying well behind, half hidden. He peruses us inquisitively (I'm sitting on the ground with my dog) then retreats, as if to report back. The charade is repeated several times, on each occasion the male coming a little closer and then returning to the others who are craning their long necks to observe us, and making shrill little snorts and squeaks. Eventually curiousity wins out over caution and he dares to come closer, taking more interest in the dog than in me. But when I rise they all charge off and disappear from view, exchanging excited alarm calls as they go.
Alpacas are members of the camelid family (like llamas), long domesticated in South America for their wool and their meat. They adapt well to suitable situations like this one, grazing in small herds, but needing extra food and shelter. They are shy but friendly with charming faces. Once a year their thick 'hearthrug' coats are shorn and then they look quite ridiculous. To be honest, alpacas have me completely smitten!