Leadership

Alpaca Association Works to Discourage Get-Rich-Quick Schemes

With a high-profile animal abuse incident drawing negative attention to alpaca ranching, the Alpaca Owners Association is recommending that people looking to raise the animals understand what they’re getting into.

For a certain kind of consumer, it was a promise that held major appeal.

The Alpaca Owners Association (AOA), a trade group for people interested in owning the South American camel variants, drew interest in some corners in response to a series of offbeat commercials that pitched the idea of owning the animals—and making significant amounts of money from them.

In the long run, however, it didn’t turn out that way: Aspirations of turning big profits proved elusive, and people who spent tens of thousands purchasing the animals for breeding purposes found themselves financially struggling.

In some cases, the situation ended in tragedy. In Oregon, one breeding operation called Jocelyn’s Alpaca Ranch drew a number of headlines earlier this year after 175 alpacas, many of them emaciated, were rescued. Co-owner Jocelyn Silver pleaded guilty to felony animal neglect charges in July, and her husband faces similar charges.

“I honestly believe that what may have happened in that ranch in Oregon is that it started off with the best of intentions and then things got out of hand,” Pacific Northwest Alpaca Association President Chris Sturgeon told The Seattle Times in March.

Shifting Its Strategy

The Alpaca Owners Association says that its goal was not to draw in get-rich-quick dreamers. Instead, it was to increase the base of the animals within North America, with the idea to eventually encourage the sale of their fleece. Clothing produced from alpaca wool was a major part of the association’s marketing campaign:

“I think the marketing was appropriate,” AOA board member Scott Miller told Modern Farmer. “I would always ask somebody that’s not very satisfied, ‘How much energy did you put into it?’ When I talk to somebody, I tell them, ‘This is a business, and if you’re not prepared to show up and work every day on your business, why in the world would you think it would be successful?’”

Nonetheless, Modern Farmer notes, with the economic decline of the livestock in recent years and with situations like those in Oregon drawing attention to the risks that come with breeding the animals, the association has changed its approach in recent months. In an article written by the association and published earlier this year in Farm and Livestock Directory, AOA is actively discouraging people from joining the field without being willing to put in the hard work that comes with ownership.

“While it is easy to point to the economic downturn as reason for the abuse these animals suffered, the explanation is likely not so clear-cut,” the article, citing the Oregon situation, states. “The exact circumstances that led to such dire conditions are uncertain, but there are ways to prevent similar situations from happening with any livestock.”

In the long run, the industry group is recommending that alpaca owners focus on revenue streams besides breeding.

“When the economy took a hit, all businesses were affected,” Columbia Alpaca Breeders Association Co-President Jeri Booher told AOA. “Successful business owners adjusted accordingly.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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