Alpaca owners gathered in Fort Wayne to exhibit, mingle and shop, but the public was barred from the three-day show.

The National Alpaca Show opened March 13 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Sponsors had expected about 15,000 visitors, as had been the case with the 2016 show.

Instead, the threat of the spread of he COVID-19 virus caused the group to close the Coliseum doors to those potential shoppers.

Rows of pens of alpacas filled the Expo Center, with only a few people wandering the aisles separating the enclosures.

Vendors showing clothing, fabric and novelties sat almost idle as the association members stayed busy with selecting champions.

The association attributed the decision to the pandemic and local and national officials’ recommendations not to organize large events.

“We regret to have to make this decision and look forward to the National Alpaca Show returning to Fort Wayne in 2022 to share our alpacas and beautiful end products with you,” the association said in its announcement.

Alpacas from across the country are featured in the competition show ring. Judging considers conformation and fleece quality in many categories for both Suri and Huacaya alpacas.

Association President Shauna Brummet said the limited attendance would be especially harmful to the dozens of vendors. “We have a set of companies here that manufacture and sell alpaca goods and garments. They’re hurt most by the lack of public because they typically do very good retail sales,” she said. “Also, our exhibitors have a chance to interact with people who might be interested in buying alpacas and raising them as a business as well. So it is very detrimental to our industry that this has happened.”

Alpaca owners were en route to Fort Wayne or had arrived before the national cascade of cancellations arrived in full March 12. Brummet said the association probably would not have canceled the event anyway. “We have a fair amount of expense just in renting the facility,” she said. “It’s not like we could have easily postponed it til a later date. The facility has commitments for other things and the decision to not allow the public was made early Thursday (March 12) by the executive director and myself because things were changing so quickly in the state and country with the coronavirus, so we really felt we just had no choice.”

She said the association already is booked for the coliseum in 2022.

“You can tell the readers that there are a number of alpaca farms all over the state of Indiana,” she said.

Brummet called attention to National Alpaca Farm Days on Sept. 26 and 27, when the public is invited to visit alpaca farms. Find the membership directory at indianaalpaca.org.

“All over the country people open up their farms and invited people to come in and meet their alpacas and purchase items at their farm stores. So that would be another option for people wanting to see the animals.”

Brummet, originally from Columbus, Indiana, and a graduate of Purdue University, operates Hobby Horse Farm in Wooster, Ohio. She has been working with alpacas since 1996 and knows the subject well.

“This is our 30th anniversary national alpaca show in the United States, so we’ve been enjoying alpacas for a long time,” she said. “We come here and gather for these shows to compare our breeding stock. The people who are here as exhibitors are breeding alpacas for their fleece and it is used to make all kinds of garments from socks to scarves to sweaters to high-end luxury men’s and women’s garments and even upholstery fabric.

“It’s very high quality, very bright, very soft to the hand. It drapes beautifully and makes all kinds of lovely knitted and woven garments.”

She said alpacas are originally from South America. “Most of them in the United States have come from Peru, Chile or Bolivia,” she said. “Some are from Argentina.

“They were raised in South America for their fiber. They were the luxury garment of the Incas. Textiles were used as currency in Inca times and alpacas were bred for the royalty.”

She said alpacas have been domesticated for between 6,000 and 7,000 years.

The association and about 150 alpaca owners brought about 650 alpacas from all corners of the country, she said.

Andrea Hammersley is president of the Indiana Alpaca Association. Hammersley said several Indiana farms are represented at the Fort Wayne show.

Hammersley, with Circus City Alpacas of Peru, raises Huacaya alpacas. Those look like teddy bears, she said. “I have two of mine right here,” she said. “Two 2-year-old boys.” One of the boys, Irish Meadows Overtime, obliged Hammersley’s nudging to pose for a photo.

She also called attention to the more slender Suri alpacas exhibited by Heritage Farm of Flora, Indiana.

“There are other people who are here from the Indiana Alpaca Association,” she said. “Some are helping as gate stewards or they’re at the ribbon table or they’re helping around the ring as volunteers.”

Each alpaca owner brought an item or a basket for a silent auction. With limited attendance, bids remained low March 13.

Judging began March 13 and was to continue into March 15.

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