MIDDLEBURGH Only a few weeks ago, when about 200 of the original llama herd starved to death at an abandoned Montana animal sanctuary, it would have seemed preposterous that a large group of the survivors would end up recovering on a beautiful farm in Schoharie County in New York state.
But that’s what’s happening — thanks to Middleburgh Central School teachers Wes and Darcy Laraway and their team of volunteers at the Northeast Llama Rescue and New York Wildlife Rescue operations, both based at the Laraways’ Red Maple Farm.
When word spread last fall on the Internet that the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary in Hot Springs had suddenly closed and its herd of about 800 llamas had been abandoned, Wes Laraway said the nation’s llama rescue community began communicating through e-mail to discuss saving the animals.
An initial strategy of collecting donations to supply feed was eventually rejected at Laraway’s insistence. He successfully advocated dividing up the survivors and trucking them wherever possible to viable rescue farms. He signed up for 100 llamas, the largest group, and paid $9,000 to have them trucked some 2,500 miles in the biggest double-decker livestock trailer available.
The animals arrived two weeks ago in frail condition. One died and two others on Friday were still having difficulty trying to stand.
However, the bulk of the new Laraway herd was looking pretty sound, eating contentedly and obviously gaining strength.
Half the herd had come out of the barn Friday afternoon and was standing in the sun in what Laraway described as an enclosed courtyard. The animals were feeding casually and eyeing visitors.
“I want these guys to get outside and get some sun,” Laraway said. At the same time, he said it is important to ensure the weakened animals are not allowed to run loose in the pasture and expend valuable energy walking through the deep snow.
“These guys are extremely docile,” said Gayle Nastasi, secretary of Laraway’s board and the creator of the organization’s website.
Arranging to transport 100 llamas from Montana was a group project that Nastasi said took some time to accomplish.
When the planning started, Laraway said, the coalition of rescue groups was somewhat intimidated by the enormity of the problem.
“It went from ‘this is too big for any of us to deal with’ to ‘we can do this,’ ” Laraway recalled.
The Laraways have been rescuing llamas — not to mention a variety of other animals including birds of prey — for 20 years.
While the Laraways spend an estimated $50,000 a year of their own income to keep the farm operating, the program costs about $100,000 annually and depends heavily on donations, he said.
Prospective donors are directed to the website — www.redmaplefarm.net — where there are instructions for contributing. Those interested in possibly adopting some llamas may also go to the website to fill out an application.
Everyone involved is a volunteer and no one, including the Laraways, is paid a dime, Wes Laraway said.
In addition to the board members, he said crucial support and help is provided by Middleburgh High School students, interns from the State University at Cobleskill and other volunteers.
Students pitch in
On a typical day after school, he said, as many as 10 high school students will drive up to the farm to help tend to the animals, which also include four bobcats, seven horses, more than 20 raptors and assorted other injured or abandoned critters.
Counting Wes and Darcy Laraway, the rescue operation includes 12 licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
The goal with the new llamas is to complete the rehabilitation and then place them in new homes. Llamas, Laraway said, are herd animals and will not be given away individually. The Montana group has animals of all ages. Llamas live to be 15 to 20 years old.
But, he said, the Montana group will need care until May, at which time homes will be sought.
By May, he estimates, the animals will require another $15,000 worth of feed. The total cost of the rescue is expected to approach $50,000, he said.
A team of veterinary students from Cornell University is scheduled to arrive later this month to address all the health needs.
Despite the number of new guests on his farm, Laraway remains enthusiastic about the undertaking.
“I don’t ever agree to anything I don’t think I can handle,” he said. “When I take in an animal, that animal has my word and my commitment for the rest of its life.”
The Laraways did not start out to establish a rescue program. Wes Laraway said they actually raised and sold some llamas in their early years.
Soon, though, they were rescuing more llamas than they were selling.
Laraway said he had the males in his herd neutered and then devoted himself full time to rescues.
“It wasn’t a choice . . . I really believe it was a destiny,” he said. “When they finally kick you in a hole, all you’ve got is what you’ve done in this life,” Laraway said.
“I’m pretty proud of what we do here,” he said.
Want to help?
Anyone interested in contributing to the llama rescue effort or eventually adopting some of the animals can find information on the website of Red Maple Farm — www.redmaplefarm.net