The floats are loaded, the toenails are trimmed, and the fleece has been shorn. Each year, alpaca aficionados and breeders from around New Zealand head to Rotorua's famous Animals and Produce Show for a shot at the big time: a rare, red, first-place ribbon. Hard evidence that their alpaca is the best alpaca.
We went along to document the drama.
Diane Marks (above) has been judging alpaca shows since 2004. She personally has 120 alpacas, and appreciates their calming effect. "They're great soothers," Marks explains.
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The Huacaya, as pictured above, is the most popular breed of alpaca, and makes up around 90 percent of all alpacas in the country. They have a soft, puffy bonnet of fleece on their heads, which is trimmed along with their toenails before the show.
Sue Richards, pictured above with 10-month-old Pamukkale, winner of the Supreme Champion Suri award. Sue has been on the scene for 20 years, and insists all her alpacas will die of old age on her farm. "There is a bit of a move for people to go into alpaca meat," she says, "but that's not what we do."
Denise Taplin (above) started off with four alpacas; now she has 42. The nurse and her husband both have demanding day jobs, which help "support our alpaca habit."
Denise entered 12-month-old Summer in the show, whose first-time nerves were quashed by a lip tickle. "She was getting a bit stressed [once] so I gave her a little tickle on the lip, and it settled her down for a bit."
Brenda Gainsford, picture above, joined the alpaca game in 2006; now her breeding females sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 each.
"We mate them two weeks after they give birth," she says. "The male does what we call an 'orgle,' a funny noise that triggers ovulation in the girls. If the guy doesn't do that, nothing happens."
Female alpaca have a charming and calm nature—until they get pregnant. Then they spit, hoicking up grass from their three-chambered stomach and unleashing it all over anyone silly enough to get too close. It's a pungent, hot mess.