We're a long way from home

IT'S not often you come face to face with an animal from the plains of Africa - in Suffolk. But Otley College is welcoming a fascinating selection of species, to be looked after by students.

IT'S not often you come face to face with an animal from the plains of Africa - in Suffolk.

But Otley College is welcoming a fascinating selection of species, to be looked after by students. Today JAMES MARSTON meets some of the college's newest teaching tools.

YOU'D be forgiven for thinking you'd been transported to the plains of South America, but in fact these alpacas are grazing in rural Suffolk.

Closely related to the llama, the alpaca is normally found on the heights of the Andes but today there is a herd enjoying the Suffolk countryside.

Housed in a barn and in a paddock at Otley College the alpacas are the latest in a number of animals looked after by the college's animal studies.

Jacky Wharton, head of animal studies, at the college said: “I've been here two and a half years and the department has grown considerably. When I started there were 120 students in the department today there is 190.”

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The college has had to increase resources in response to growing interest in animal welfare.

Jacky said: “We have tried to reflect the changes in the animal care industry. Students need to know how to look after not just the small friendly animals but also the larger and more exotic ones.”

“Though there welfare is always at the top of our agenda the animals we have here are a useful learning tool. They enable our students to be confident handling a selection of animals.”

Offering a number of courses in the animal studies department including access courses right up to foundation degree level the animal studies.

Students go into a number of roles within the animal care industry including veterinary practices, zoos, wildlife parks, animal welfare organisations, kennels and catteries.

Jacky said: “As well as the more traditional animals like rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters mice and rats we also have some more exotic animals like terrapins, snakes, lizards, frogs and fish.

“Dogs are brought in by staff to be looked after and trained by our students.”

But it is the new arrivals that are getting all the attention at the moment, from Wensleydale sheep, saddleback pigs, to the new alpacas, meerkats, chipmunks and bat eared foxes.

The college is hoping to show the saddleback pigs at this year's Suffolk show.

Jacky said: “This will be the first year for a number of years we have taken livestock to the show. They are a rare breed and we are looking forward to showing them.”

The bat eared foxes are looked after by students who are also observing their behaviour. Jacky said: “By the time the students leave here they will have experience of a number of different animals so their job opportunities are increased.”

What do you think of the new arrivals? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Herds graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, and northern Chile at an altitude of 3,500 to 5,000 meters above sea-level, throughout the year.

They are smaller than llamas and unlike them are not used as beasts of burden but are valued only for their wool used for making blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in South America, and sweaters, blankets, socks and coats in other parts of the world.

Alpaca wool comes in more than 22 natural colours.

Alpacas and llamas differ in that llamas have banana shaped ears and long tails and alpacas have straight ears and stubby tails.

Some alpacas will spit when looked at, others will never spit - their personalities are all so individualized that there is no hard and fast rule about them in terms of social behavior.

Bat-eared Foxes are nocturnal animals that live in small family groups. The pairs live in dens and raise two to five pups together.