In the span of two months, the alpaca herd at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, grew by four.
The first baby cria, which is what a juvenile alpaca is called, was born on May 7 and christened Providence Jean Raphael.
And 14 days later, Providence Tracy Dawn entered this world. The excitement continued to grow as Providence Ignatius, affectionately called “Iggy,” was born on May 22, and on June 26, the fourth cria arrived, Providence Montaro, also known as “Monte.”
Former WVC director, Sister Ann Sullivan, said the ministry has experienced a growth spurt like this in the past, but it has been quite some time.
“It has happened before,” Sullivan said. “At times, we might have 20 cria born in the spring or fall, usually April through June. One evening, we had seven of them. They formed a gang, racing wildly around the pasture jumping over the little hills, challenging the adults who were grazing. Ten to 20 minutes of pure entertainment and it was often repeated.”
It appears the four new arrivals have created a gang amongst themselves as well. Recently, Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, General Superior for the Congregation, spotted the four all “hanging out” together.
“I rolled down my window and tried to engage them in conversation,” Tomaszewski said. “Eventually, I drove away and that crazy Jean Raphael ran alongside the fence keeping pace with me and my car. When I turned left to head for the gate, she turned with me and continued to run. It was so fun!”
Current WVC director Lorrie Heber concurred.
“Ah, the life of an alpaca,” she said. “They start the morning nursing and watching staff and interns. Once mom is fed, they’ll run out to the pasture and play. We have a dirt mound where they play king of the hill, roll around and just act silly.”
Heber said the ministry has to plan all cria births “carefully.”
“We are currently playing catch-up to ensure we have a necessary quantity of fleece for yarn and finished goods,” she said. “Those things significantly support our ministry financially. So we analyzed our needs for fiber and discovered that, with our aging herd, we needed to breed. Given it takes three years from successful breeding to usable fleece, we had to get busy.
“God willing, we will have three more cria in the spring of 2020 and three in the fall of 2020. Next summer, we’ll analyze our 2019 fiber clip for color and poundage and see if we need additional breeding for 2021.”
Since the four new cria have arrived, the Sisters have enjoyed stopping by and visiting with them.
“They have been delighted with our new kids on the block,” Heber said. “They enjoy sitting on the bench outside the pasture and watching them play. They’re so cute. And the cria are too.”
Both Sullivan and Heber said the Congregation realizes having the cria around also engages visitors.
“They are learning, so they’re naturally curious,” Heber said. “They like to sniff people, but will run away if you try to touch them. People are just fascinated with the little ones … and the big ones too.”
“We know the alpacas bring families to the Woods and provide opportunities to further educate about issues of environmental concerns,” Sullivan added.
Heber said naming the new arrivals is an entire “Woods” effort. For example, when Providence Ruth was born in September 2018, staff, interns, volunteers and others were involved in the naming process well before the birth even took place.
“We had a long list to choose from,” Heber said. “Often, the cria and the circumstances of their birth will help guide us. Our first born this season, Providence Jean Raphael, was named in honor of Sister Jean Fuqua, who helped found WVC and has worked with the ministry since.
“Iggy was born the week the University of Scranton students were with us during a service learning trip. The University of Scranton and Creighton University are both Jesuit schools and provide so many hours of services for us each year. During Iggy’s birth, a student suggested naming him for Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. We thought it was a great idea.”
While all four are quite curious, there have been some hiccups. Both Providence Tracy Dawn and Providence Iggy needed plasma infusions after birth to boost their blood levels. Both are now doing fine. In addition, Providence Montaro, also known as Monte, has a heart murmur and will have an ultrasound in the future.
“Usually, that is caused by a hole in the heart, a congential condition that is quite common, also in humans,” Heber said. “But often, as they grow, the hole will close. Monte is so active that it’s hard to imagine it will be a big problem.”
She added that Iggy was born with blue eyes and with “beautiful bright white fleece.”
“This is a genetic anomaly and often results in the alpaca being deaf,” she said. “We believe Iggy is indeed deaf. But that presents no problem for him as long as he’s with the herd. He takes cues of danger from them and is quite capable of living a long, happy life with the herd.
“All four of them are growing like weeds and gaining several pounds a week.”