The Northern Ireland Alpaca Group (NIAG) has enjoyed their first annual Alpaca Picnic in the stunning surroundings of Stormont Estate.
Alpacas from herds across Northern Ireland were joined by hundreds of visitors for the event, which was held yesterday.
Originally from South America, particularly Peru, Chile and Bolivia, alpacas are closely related to the llama. While llamas have been bred to be big and strong, allowing them to carry heavy loads, alpacas are prized for the fine and luxurious fleece.
Alpaca breeders across Northern Ireland produce a range of goods using locally grown alpaca fleece. Some spin the fleece and knit garments, such as jumpers, hats, scarves and gloves. Some use the fleece in the production of felted products. One herd makes a range of luxury bedding products, filled with the fleece.
While they are still very rare here, alpacas have been kept and bred in Northern Ireland for the past couple of decades. It is estimated there are about 200 alpacas living in Northern Ireland today, mostly in small herds of ten or fewer.
The group, which is a regional sub-group of the British Alpaca Society (BAS), provides an opportunity for alpaca breeders, owners and enthusiasts from across Northern Ireland to come together and share their love of all things alpaca.
NIAG Chair, Lee Kane from Causeway Alpacas, Ballycastle, said the day was about showcasing the small, but growing, alpaca community in Northern Ireland.
“It’s great to see the interest our animals receive. Many people do not know that there are alpacas living happily in all parts of Northern Ireland. Many are kept as pets, while other are used to guard sheep and hens.
“Of course, it’s the fleece that makes the alpaca so special. Softer, yet stronger, than cashmere, it’s easy to see why the fleece has been prized by people all over the world for centuries.”
As well as providing a social space for alpaca keepers, the group aims to champion the welfare of alpacas kept in Northern Ireland.
Lee added: "We love our animals and go to great lengths to make sure they are happy and healthy at all times. And we are passionate about helping each other to do the same.
“Sadly, we hear too many stories of people buying alpacas from disreputable breeders, without even a basic understanding of how to care for their new animals.
“We strongly advise anyone interested in keeping alpacas to do lots of research and to speak to as many breeders as they can before making the leap and getting their first animals. For more information visit the NIAG website – www.alpacani.org”