I recently attended a conference that focused on llamas and alpacas. The group is called GALA (Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Association). They convene at a conference in a different state each year. It is a group of camelid enthusiasts where the only requirement for membership is an interest in the camelids of our world. This conference is not limited to camelid topics. Some speakers discuss other species such as yaks (Bos grunniens) and diseases that impact many of our domestic species, such as Parelaphostrongylus tenuis. Fortunately, the organizers of this conference believe that the future of camelid medicine and a sustainable camelid community in the United States is the veterinary students and other young people that are interested in working with camelids. Because of this belief, veterinary students were invited to the conference for free. Even with a busy week and upcoming exams, I had to take them up on that offer!
One of my favorite discussions at the meeting was the one that I did not think would be offered. There was a yak farmer there to discuss the general aspects of yak ownership. She and her husband farm yaks for their meat and sell them to a wide range of people. I was surprised to know that many people were interested in buying yak meat. Many immigrants from different parts of Asia, such as the Indian subcontinent are customers. The other primary purchaser of yak meat was restaurants! It was surprising to me that so many restaurants were interested in yak meat, but I guess it is actually highly sought after by those who know it.
I also saw some of the camelid folks that I have met in my time here at Cornell. I connected with these people at events such as the Cornell Veterinary Open House. It makes me feel at home to know that I am a part of a community of animal lovers that also enjoys staying in touch and spending time together. Two of these people are the owners of a big Bactrian camel that I have written about before. I have worked with this camel a few times, and we have a goofy, yet special bond. This conference was an ideal way to spend a day away from school while also learning more about the camelid species that I will be servicing someday.