Monday, November 5, 2012

How Not to Catch an Alpaca!

OK! So yesterday afternoon, after a good month of visiting the girls daily to build trust, Rich and I blew it in 15 minutes of a bungled attempt to corral Leeza and put a harness on her. We have both read books, articles and multiple websites that advise the novice about how to cut a single alpaca out of the herd in order to put a harness on her and begin to leash train the animal. We decided that Sunday was THE day. We carefully discussed and planned what our strategy would be when we entered the pasture and found what we thought would be the exact thing to use for a herding "tape." In the materials that we read, alpaca owners used everything from a special webbing tape to a sturdy brightly colored rope to gently surround their animals and gradually herd them in to a catch pen. We were even advised by a fascinating woman who was probably in her seventies or so, that she could herd her animals alone using a simple webbing strap. How difficult can it be, we thought.

The cold, damp wind was blowing my hair around my face as I entered the pasture alone, strap in one pocket and halter in the other. Keeping my hands at my side I slowly approached the girls, talking softly to them the whole time just like I usually do on my nightly visits. So far, so good. Rich entered the pasture behind me and greeted our alpaca girls in the same friendly manner he always uses with them. They stood staring and humming at us totally unsuspecting that they were in for some unwelcome excitement. I pulled the "herding tape" out of my pocket and handed one end to Rich and I took the other and began to circle around to the other side of the girls. At this point they got nervous and realized that we were advancing toward them and slowly penning them into the corner of the pasture with the tape. We shortened the tape until all three animals were in the corner and then I put myself between Took and Leeza and gently put my arms low around Leeza's neck. Took and Mango took off and Leeza realized in an instant that she was stronger than I am. She backed out of the corner and joined her buddies in flight. Rich looked at me a little disgusted that I could not hold on to an animal that is shorter than I.

Undaunted, Rich and I decided to try the same move again in another corner of the pasture. No luck. We made a third attempt but this time Rich put a hug on Leeza. Guess what? She is stronger and faster than him, too!  But this is where the trauma begins. Leeza escaped cleanly but in the process somehow the lightweight plastic "strap" got hooked around baby Mango's chest and she took off at a gallop across the pasture trailing 50 feet of yellow caution tape complete with flags dangling at regular intervals behind her! Mama Took ran along side her baby, clearly distressed about the ethereal yellow "monster" chasing her baby. Rich and I stood rooted to the spot staring helplessly for the few minutes it took for the caution tape to finally break loose and drop to the ground.

Mango and Leeza ran to the far side of the pasture and huddled behind Took who was screeching and spitting in our direction warning us to stay clear of the young ones. Richard and I retreated out of the pasture with our tails between our legs, figuratively speaking, feeling awful that we had traumatized our girls.

In our nightly visit this evening all three girls turned their backs on me at first. I apologized profusely for about 15 minutes in the cold wind before they finally turned around and looked at me. Before I came inside Took, with her ears drawn back, finally approached within two feet. I was afraid that I was going to get a face full of spit but I stood my ground ready to take my punishment. She perked up her ears, stared at me calmly, hummed and then returned to her baby. I think that I am conditionally forgiven.

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