An overview of South American camelid (SAC) practice in the UK in 2013

01 March 2014, at 12:00am

Graham Duncanson is concerned about the treatment of camelids and reports on new modules now available on camelid medicine and surgery as part of the certificate in advanced veterinary practice

SOUTH American camelids (SACs) are becoming popular throughout the UK, particularly in the south of England. There are an estimated 40,000 of which the majority are alpacas.

In 1994, a group of far-sighted veterinary surgeons formed the British Veterinary Camelid Society (BCVS) in response to the growing interest in these animals. The aim of the society is to provide a central source of information and advice to ensure the highest standards of clinical care for all SACs in the UK.

Sadly, there is only one referral practice offering 24/7 out-of-hours care for these animals. This Westover Veterinary Centre, based five miles north of Norwich; further information can be obtained on the large animal website or by e-mail to or by ringing 01603 899930. It is manned by six veterinary surgeons all of whom are members of the BCVS and have a specific interest in SACs.

To promote further study, VetLearning, a company specialising in providing further education for veterinary graduates in work-base study is providing a learning opportunity to members of the RCVS) to obtain a Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice.

This will take the form of a two- year modular course containing the RCVS mandatory ‘A’ and ‘B2’ modules, with 3 ‘C’ modules in camelid medicine and surgery. To obtain the certificate, candidates will have to complete a further ‘B’ or ‘C’ module of their choice.

Further information can be obtained on the VetLearning website or by e-mail to – or ring 01353 723885 for a free consultation.


The BCVS, like Westover, is always happy to give advice to fellow professionals. Owners are encouraged to make contact with their vet or make use of the Find a Camelid Vet section on the website to help them find veterinary expertise in their area.

Through the British Llama Society (BLS) and the British Alpaca Society (BAS), the BCVS works closely with camelid owners. Both societies promote the responsible ownership, registration and farming of camelids in the UK.

In addition, Bob Broadbent (one of the founders of the society) and the author are on the board of trustees of British Camelids Ltd (BCL), a charity dedicated to the welfare of camelids, representation and liaison with DEFRA on behalf of all camelids and research and development relating to camelid health, welfare and good husbandry practice. 

In addition, they are concerned with the promotion of, and education about, camelids to the general public in the UK and their website publishes papers relating to research and development undertaken on behalf of the charity. The most important recent piece of research is on the validation of ante- mortem TB tests in camelids.

Rescue work

Both the recession and the increase in numbers has caused a few instances where camelid owners, particularly llama owners, are having difficulties looking after their animals.

These instances are extremely rare but BCL has ring-fenced a small sum of money to help in these circumstances. Naturally this money will need to be accounted for and audited in an appropriate manner.

There have been no problems with guanacos and vicuna but as a result of faulty legislation they were defined historically as wild animals. The BCL lobbied DEFRA and since October 2007 a Dangerous Wild Animal Licence is no longer required to keep these animals.


Each year BCL provides sponsorship to two or three members of the BVCS to attend the annual International Camelid Health Conference held in the USA. This conference has speakers from many parts of the world where camelids are kept, not only from the USA but also from South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The location of the conference alternates between Oregon and Ohio. The author attended the conference in Oregon five years ago and Ann Kent from Westover attended in 2013. Each year the sponsored BCL delegates on their return give talks and write articles as stipulated by BCL and BVCS so that knowledge from the conference can be disseminated.

Each year the BVCS holds an annual conference for members. This takes the form of two days of lectures and discussions on relevant camelid topics. Some years there is an extra half-day of practical training. Such practicals have included castration, reproductive scanning, abdominal scanning and biopsy techniques. The 2013 conference was on 16th and 17th November.

Duty of care

All practices have a right to decide which species of animal they are going to treat. If practices decide that they are not going to treat camelids then all that is required is for all the staff to be made aware of this so that any camelid enquiry can either be referred to the BCVS website or perhaps a better option is to look up on the website in advance to find the nearest veterinary practice willing to see camelids and then have this name a telephone available for all the staff. That is straight forward.

The more problematic situation is when the practice is happy to carry out camelid practice but is not prepared to carry out emergency surgery, e.g. caesarean sections or laparotomies.

If these practices are within two hours of us at Westover, then there is no real problem as the case can be referred to us. In the rest of the country the option then is to ring us and we will talk you through the case and the possible surgery.

Naturally there are other options at the veterinary schools. However, there may not be a referring veterinary surgeon available 24/7.

It is difficult for the author to advise practitioners as the RCVS and the VDS are happy to tell practitioners what they must not do but sadly give little in the way of guidance on what they should do.


The best advice must be to join the BCVS and to enrol on the camelid certificate. Failing that, ring a friend, e.g. 01603 899930 for Westover or 07836 282330 for the author.