Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 14 July 2014

Putting the cart before the alpaca

We're back in Essex today with a phenomenon that appeared in JuliaM's recent post on a news story from the Basildon area:
An alpaca trekking business has had to shut after yobs hurled rocks at the terrified animals.
Leaving aside the animal cruelty aspect for a moment, this sounded intriguing; alpaca trekking? In Basildon?

Pony trekking is well established as a way of looking at spectacular scenery while letting the animal do the hard work. Alpacas, however, are too flimsy for this.
Instead, 'trekkers' must walk beside the animal and lead it on a rein, although, to be fair, the alpaca sometimes makes a token gesture by carrying a picnic lunch on its back. Basically, you are paying to take a country stroll slightly impeded by one of the campest animals on the planet.

Alpacas are, I am sure, delightful creatures when you get to know them but it does seem a little odd to hire them by the hour, especially when you are only allowed to walk them round the park under supervision rather than, say, take them shopping in the Eastgate centre or experiment with their capacity for show-jumping.

The owner was, apparently, inspired by Victorian  pictures of llamas pulling cartloads of children at Whipsnade:
She decided she wanted to recreate the scene in her home town of Basildon, albeit with alpacas rather than llamas. 
Alpacas aren't big enough to pull carts so she decided on the trekking model instead at £10 for half an hour.
“It’s very exciting, this could finally be my big break.”
Assuming the alpacas were happy with the arrangement, it would be a laudable effort at free enterprise were it not for two things which suggest a painful degree of misplaced optimism and faith in human nature.

Firstly the surroundings: although businesses like this are springing up in scenic environments such as the Austrian Tyrol, the Pennines or Sudeley Castle, the prospect of plodding round the Essex marshes just north of Canvey Island is rather less thrilling even with a diminutive camelid mincing along by your side.

And secondly, of course, there are the rock-throwers, tangible proof, that, for some local residents at least, civilization is something that happened to other people. I saw 'Gladiator' at the Basildon Empire on a Saturday night and the on-screen barbarian hordes were nowhere near as frightening as the crowd outside afterwards.

The three alpacas have now been moved to safer quarters until accommodation can be found in, one hopes, a more salubrious neighbourhood. It all goes to show that, in the bizarre world of alpaca trekking, it's probably best to start with the ideal location and then look for livestock rather than the other way round.


  1. "...the on-screen barbarian hordes were nowhere near as frightening as the crowd outside afterwards."

    It's true, a bit of crucifixion or even decimation would do wonders for Baz Vegas...

  2. “It’s very exciting, this could finally be my big break.”

    Sounds like something Del Boy Trotter would say. Sounds like one of his ideas too.

  3. verum dicis, julia!

    AKH, I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that the break she has in mind is not necessarily financial.

    After all, there's a limit to how many hours an alpaca can walk even if fully booked, and by the time she's paid for the insurance, vets' bills and feed and her own expenses there won't be much left over, though there is also the possibility of selling the fleece as a sideline.

    And that's without the cost of the beasties themselves; there's a farm in Braintree currently offering alpacas for sale at between £875 and £1800. They are currently offering a 'superb stud male' at a 'massive discount' with free delivery - I wonder what he's done!

  4. Alpacas? Hair today, gone tomorrow.

  5. Oo, I'll have to get Rossa onto this - she's alpaca crazy.