Chahinkapa Zoo, Wahpeton, likes to say that visitors can travel the world without a passport. So can the animals, including an infant alpaca.

Eragon Jr., “E.J.,” born Wednesday, Jan. 6, spent his first few days with mom Zenia (pronounced “Zena”) and brother Arthur in the zoo’s African exhibit. The family of three had neighbors including white rhinos and zebras.

“Alpacas are native to Central and South America,” Zoo Director Kathy Diekman said. “Because of the wet and windy weather, we relocated the family to the African habitat.”

E.J. is the son of Zenia and the late Eragon, who died in July 2020. While Chahinkapa Zoo mourns Eragon, they are proud that he was able to start a family.

“Zenia’s got a little trio now and she’s plenty busy. E.J.’s eating well, which is always a good indication of health,” Diekman said.

If an alpaca mother is able to, she does her own nursing, Diekman and Lead Zookeeper Addy Paul said. It’s rare that a newborn like E.J. would be bottle-fed.

Weighing 30 pounds at birth, E.J. was closely watched by Zenia when the family traveled to their temporary habitat.

“We felt that with a brand new baby, mom would follow it just fine,” Paul said. “She followed the baby the whole way and Arthur followed her. It was an easy walk down to Africa.”

In addition to currently being larger than E.J., Arthur can be identified by the shaggy fleece that slightly covers his eyes. Alpacas are domesticated animals and enjoy living outdoors year-round.

“They’re pack animals, smaller than llamas and can be used as guard animals on ranches. We get guests who ask, ‘Well, do they spit? Are they mean?’ We just say, ‘They’re sassy’ — in a good way,” Diekman said.

E.J., Zenia and Arthur are members of a zoo family including Niko the spider monkey, who Diekman said had an especially Merry Christmas.

“He was a little scamp and he opened all the stockings for all the monkeys,” she said.

Diekman, proud of the recent Tickle Your Ribs fundraiser, reflected on what makes her and fellow zookeepers proud to see guests.

“We see the smiles,” she said. “We see that for a few hours, people have a day at the zoo. They forget what’s happening for a while.”

Chahinkapa Zoo will open for the 2021 season on Saturday, April 24. Volunteers are needed for Clean-Up Day, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 17.

“We have some great things in place that worked well for us last year, like having our separate entrance and exit, as well as the outdoor gift shop,” Diekman said.

For more information, call 701-642-8709 or visit chahinkapazoo.org.

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