Entrepreneurial couple whose love of alpacas has blossomed to include rescue animals and the potential for a petting zoo

“Cuteness overload” is the very appropriate description of four brilliant white alpaca crias (young alpacas) gambolling in a paddock on the outskirts of Leeds.

The couple are hoping to open a petting zoo.

The baby animals feature on the Thorner Alpacas Facebook page and are the stars of a new enterprise that came about when Nathan Clough and Alexster Pearson were holidaying in Thailand two years ago.

What started as a purchase of two alpacas from Farmer Copleys in Pontefract has mushroomed into a herd of the Huacaya breed now registered with the British Alpaca Society, plus two donkeys, five goats and two emus.

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A petting zoo or petting farm is now on the agenda along with hopeful additions of camels, capybaras (like giant guinea pigs), wallabies and meerkats once an appropriate larger venue is found to add to their one and a half acres they are currently renting from a local farmer.

The couple are hoping to open a petting zoo.

“We have a passion for animals and I’m one of those people who will see on social media that there are animals that have been neglected, badly treated or just need a home and I’ll say we’ll have it, we’ll find room, we’ll find more land and take it in,” said Nathan, who with his partner, Alexster, also runs the handmade cosmetics business, Scentiments, which has three stores in and around Leeds.

“Alex has these crazy ideas and while we were away, he just said he’d love some alpacas. We then spent quite a bit of our holiday researching and finding out how you look after them.

“We ended up buying our first two while we were on holiday. We didn’t even have anywhere to keep them at the time.

“Farmer Copleys looked after them until Phil and Sarah Walmsley rented us the paddock here in Thorner. None of the alpacas are rescue animals. We’ve bought them and reared our own.

When we started off with two, I said two more and that’s it.

“Alex then said he’d seen more, so we grew our numbers quite quickly. We’re at our limit now, with the land we have, and one baby cria still to be born soon.

“We have seven breeding females and three boys, on the other side of the fence that you have to keep separate, as well as this year’s crop of cria. Our oldest girl Charlotte had a baby this year, Albie.

“She has been an amazing mum but she’s getting old now, so we won’t breed from her anymore.

“We’ve had wonderful help from John and Janet of Swillington Alpacas who have shown us how to halter train and have helped us with our learning, particularly with

births and being alongside us when we have had to make our first injections.

“We also have a lovely vet, Ashleigh of Westpoint Vets, who knows all about alpacas and all camelids.

“People who come to see the animals say that we must love being here, which we do. There’s myself, Alex, my sister Carla and her partner, Danny Greenwood, and their children.

“But I tell everyone there’s a lot more to it for us than being around them.

“Looking after animals is about clearing away all the poo, topping up water constantly, feeding up and a weekly nail trim for the animals; the alpacas mainly whose nails weren’t the best.

“It’s a battle getting them back to normal.

“Picking up poo is a massive job. We’ve recently invested in a machine that looks something like out of Ghostbusters. My sister said it’s worth more than her car, but it’s better than doing it all by hand. It now just sucks it all up.

“Myself, Alex and Danny have taken a course in zoology learning about animal welfare, diseases and care.

“We all know how important it is to look after every animal correctly and we are learning all the time. One of our donkeys was in a terrible mess when he came, covered in his own faeces.

“It was matted in his coat and we had to shave him. You don’t generally do that with a donkey.

“He also had really bad respiratory problems and suffered from rain scald. Janet from Swillington Alpacas helped us bathe and rehabilitate him.

“At first he wouldn’t come to anyone. He would just run away.”

Goats play on a timber climbing frame constructed, as has been all the fencing and shelters, by Nathan, his dad, Alex and Danny.

“My dad and Danny are very hands-on in anything to do with fencing, building or maintenance work. The goats love their play area. We have two Boer nanny goats and three pigmy goats.

The emus only arrived recently. A lady near London found she didn’t have the space for them.”

Two years in and the picture is fast developing since Nathan and Alex’s initial investment in a couple of alpacas.

“Our heart is in animals and we’ve said that if we can find the right place, maybe with eight to ten acres, and get the right planning permissions we would like to open up to the public as a little petting zoo or farm.

“We’d like to have some camels, which don’t come cheap as you have to buy in pairs; and capybaras. They need enclosures that cost thousands and have to have all sorts native to their environment including a pool. You can’t have a petting zoo/farm with just alpacas.

“Keeping camels means you need a Dangerous Wild Animals licence (DWA) but because they would be resident more than seven days of the year we would have to be registered as a zoo.

“When you think of a zoo you think of somewhere like Chester, not a little place like ours would be.

“All we’d want to do is charge a fee that would go towards the feed and welfare of the animals.

“It will be a massive investment for us when it happens, but right now we are very grateful for the sacks of carrots that keep appearing from our lovely village friends.”

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Thank you

James Mitchinson