A question was posted recently on one of the online alpaca groups I belong to:
“Do alpacas make friends and if so do they remember those friends if they are separated and meet up again?”
The answer from alpaca owners was a resounding “Yes”. There were many mentions of alpacas who bonded with other alpacas, some were related others not. Stories of alpacas recognizing past friends at shows or when they met up at farms were also recounted.
Over the years we have witnessed the strong bonds that alpacas form with each other. Certainly alpacas recognize their own family groups and seem to have stronger bonds with those alpacas (except for our alpaca Queen, for as far as Queen is concerned once those crias are weaned they are on their own!). But it is not only family ties that bind alpacas together, they definitely also make friends.
We recently witnessed an example of this when we moved the two boys in our current weaning group, Patton and Leo, over to the Junior Males pen. Patton and Leo were part of a group that consisted of five boys and seven girls. Three of the boys Sentry, MacArthur and Espresso were moved over to the Junior Males pen a few months ago, but we decided to keep Leo and Patton back in the weanling pen for a little longer. Patton was small for his age and we were concerned he would receive too much rough housing attention from the other males. Leo was a tough boy to wean, at our first attempt he became distraught at being separated from his dam Velvet and tried to break through fences to get to her so we put Leo back with Velvet for a little longer until we felt he was able to better handle the separation. Over time we could tell that Leo had matured more and was ready to be weaned so he soon joined the other weanlings. This time Leo handled the separation from Velvet much better. When Leo started to show too much interest in the weanling females (when he matured he really matured!) we decided that it was time to move him and Patton into the Junior Males pen.
Our process for introducing males to a new group is to create a smaller pen within the pen the males are being moved to. We then put the new boys plus a couple of mellow boys from the existing group in that pen too. The smaller group can have nose to nose contact with the other boys and will remain in that pen for a week to two weeks. Usually by that time the novelty of the new arrivals wears off and when we let everyone get together we typically have very few problems. We also make that final introduction at feeding time so that there is an additional distraction.
When the time came for Leo and Patton to meet the other junior males all went well. Soon they were wandering around, checking out their new surroundings and new pen mates. It was then we noticed something else, that Sentry was almost glued to Patton’s side! Sentry was so happy to meet his buddy Patton again!
When the weanling boys had all been together prior to weaning they all got along well, but we hadn’t realized how much Sentry liked Patton until we saw them together again. Sentry would not let the other boys mess with Patton and Patton was pleased to have his buddy by his side, even though Sentry is now considerably bigger than Patton.
Alpacas are most definitely a herd animal, which is why we tell people that you should never have a lone alpaca. We have been fortunate to witness alpacas in our herd group over a considerable period of time and know that they do form bonds. When they are with their families or their buddies they are happy, separate them and it definitely causes them some stress.
Sometimes though it is inevitable that those bonds are going to be broken. Male and female crias that grow up together are not going to be pastured together, alpacas that are sold to other breeders will often be sold without their friends (unless we can work out a great deal with the new owners and we will try and do that when possible) and of course at times an alpaca will pass away leaving a buddy behind. Any time there is going to be a separation we do our best to manage it well; probiotics to keep the alpacas rumen functioning well and to supply B vitamins to help them handle the stress of separation, Rescue Remedy to help them deal with the loss, over time the alpacas do adjust. It is sometimes a fine balancing act to keep the herd happy and run a successful alpaca business, but we do our best to respect the alpacas while also keeping our business functioning. Then of course there are the happy reunions we sometimes see, such as Patton and Sentry or a female who comes back to the farm for a breeding and is happily reunited with her dam or her sister for the duration of her stay.
So yes, alpacas do make friends and do remember those friends – and sometimes those friends can also be humans, but that’s a subject for another time 🙂