Outcast alpacas form unlikely bond at B.C. animal sanctuary

Gemmy the alpaca has spent most of her life alone, rejected by other animals because of her blindness, according to her caregivers.

The seven-year-old’s lack of sight means she moves her head strangely and accidentally bumps into other members of the herd at the Llama Sanctuary in Tappen, B.C., about 72 kilometres east of Kamloops. 

“She was surrendered to us when she was three days old. The vet thought that there was no quality of life possible for her,” said Llama Sanctuary co-founder David Chapman.

However, Chapman and his partner, Lynne Milsom, had other plans for Gemmy. 

They were determined to give the animal a better life, arranging for Gemmy’s mother to live at the sanctuary for a year to nurse her baby, and later pairing Gemmy with a surrogate when her mother returned to her home farm. 

Despite their efforts, however, they say Gemmy was never welcomed by the herd.

Gemmy, who is blind, has been at the Llama Sanctuary since she was three days old. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Jennifer Hack, president of the Alpaca Owners Association, says alpacas and llamas form tight social groups, and being isolated from the herd poses risks to an animal’s welfare.

“They’re a prey animal, so they feel very uncomfortable when they’re just alone because they’re very vulnerable,” Hack said.

Unlike other domesticated livestock like horses, cows, and sheep, camelids like llamas and alpacas have a more intense response to unfamiliar things and Hack says they get particularly stressed without a larger group to protect them. 

That strong protective behaviour can also lead the herd to push out animals that are different or sick because they pose a potential risk to the larger group.

“It’s pretty common honestly to see them push out ones that aren’t as healthy,” Hack said.

That herd behaviour meant Gemmy wanted to be with other animals, but they didn’t want to be with her.

Gemmy’s unfortunate situation changed, however, when Eddie arrived at the sanctuary. 

Eddie was surrendered to the rescue centre in the fall after the weight of his fleece became so heavy from neglect that he could no longer walk. 

After arriving, he was in the intensive care area of the centre and was barely able to walk.

“He was very depressed when he first arrived. He just sat. He didn’t take any interest in anyone at all,” said Chapman.

And that can spell bad news for the animal.

Smiling man in blue jacket stands beside smiling woman in blue jean jacket.
David Chapman and his partner, Lynne Milsom, run the Llama Sanctuary in Tappen, B.C. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

“If they’re just by themselves and they’re really malnourished, they can just give up,” said Hack.

That’s why Chapman and Milsom wanted to find another animal to bond with Eddie, but most of the other animals were too rough to put with the recovering alpaca.

After years of being picked on by other llamas and alpacas at the sanctuary, Gemmy had a lot of experience in not reacting.

One day they took a bunch of animals over to the barn to be shorn, and something happened.

“I saw Eddie watching Gemmy. He was observing her. He watched her for a few hours and it was then that he made his move… he saw that she never retaliated,” said Milsom.

WATCH | 2 outcast alpacas bond at Llama Sanctuary: 

2 ‘lonely’ alpacas in Tappen, B.C., find friendship

Two alpacas who suffered years of neglect from other animals have formed a bond at The Llama Sanctuary in Tappen, B.C.

From that point on, Eddie started walking when he was around Gemmy and she was able to follow because of the distinctive humming noise he makes.

Chapman and Milsom had never thought to put the pair together because they were afraid Gemmy might knock Eddie over, but they were thrilled to see the pair becoming companions.

“It brings tears to your eyes when you see,” Chapman said.

“Eddie is a good role model because he’s showing that it is possible to live with Gemmy and have a happy life.”

Chapman believes the pair might offer hope to other outcast animals who join the sanctuary. 

“It’s really hopeful that they will create their own tribe.”

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