In the big picture, Alpacas have not been in the United States for that long. Imports came here in the early 1980's, not that long ago. I don't remember even hearing about alpacas until later in the 1990's. I didn't see an alpaca until about six years ago (that's the first time I remember it anyway). Now that we have an alpaca farm, I notice alpaca farms when I am driving around. I actually think this is because there are more farms (the national herd has grown), but I also think once you know the signs of a farm you recognize it easier. In the past I would have driven by and not noticed.
I do think alpacas are more familiar to more people. But they still aren't a household word for everyone. For example, at school my son has gotten resistance from other classmates. It was a few years ago, I think he was in 1st grade, when he was telling classmates about his alpacas and they told him alpacas were imaginary like unicorns :) My son was quite upset about the entire ordeal, but what it told me is that people still aren't familiar with alpacas. Most adults don't know what an alpaca baby is called (often kids are taught about baby animals: kittens, puppies, fawns, and so forth, not too many people talk about cria).
Those in the alpaca community do spend a lot of time introducing people to alpacas and educating them on alpacas. Much of the information makes sense, but you can't know what you have never been told.
I know many alpaca farmers take their alpacas to local community events. We have done a few of these things, because we believe it's important to get the word out. Alpacas are interesting and wonderful creatures, we hope everyone will see and learn about them. We seek out opportunities to get alpacas out to the public.
This past summer while on vacation we were at the zoo. We went by a pen with one lama all by itself. On the positive, we noticed that the pen was clean and the lama had been shorn (I have seen them sometimes where they clearly had not been shorn in over a year). While this lama clearly was receiving good care, we discussed among ourselves that like alpacas, llamas are herd animals. One by itself isn't a good situation. It will increase anxiety and cause illnesses for that one lonely animal. J decided he was going to do something about it. He went and talked to one of the zoo workers. This person acknowledged that this lama had not always been alone, and that it isn't ideal. J then explained that we have an alpaca farm and could donate some alpacas. The zoo worker was excited about this and gave him the necessary contact information. After we got home he emailed the right person and they sorted it all out. We wanted to donate at least two alpacas so they have a friend, even with the lama, we felt one alpaca and one lama is not a herd. We offered more alpacas but the zoo felt two alpacas with their lama was what they had the right room for. Then J and I discussed which alpacas we would donate.
Today the zoo came and picked up Bopanna and Tucker:
(Sorry for the terrible picture, I had camera problems this morning and they are gone now so no going back to get more pictures. I will have to visit them at the zoo to get the right pictures of them.)
We are so excited that these two boys will be at the zoo for many people to see and learn about alpacas! If you are in the area, they are at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, Michigan. Bopanna is a more typical alpaca and likes to look and watch you, but not as outgoing. Tucker is quite friendly and I hope he will be watching and following and sniffing people all day everyday. I hope everyone can see these boys and love alpacas like we do!