COAL VALLEY — You can call it a September surprise.
A baby alpaca was born at Niabi Zoo Sept. 1 to a 4-year-old mother, Paila, and 3-year-old father, Mani.
Although alpacas have a gestation period of 11 to 12 months, primary hoofstock keeper Kristina Stump said zookeepers had no idea Paila was pregnant until a few weeks before she gave birth.
Stump said the alpacas arrived at the zoo two years ago.
"When we got the alpacas in, we were intending for them to breed," Stump said. "We knew she was pregnant but didn't know how far along."
Stump said zookeepers knew something was up during the Sept. 1 morning pellet feeding when Paila wasn't interested in eating.
Paila and Mani share an enclosure and several small barns with a llama named Lala and two donkeys. Alpacas, llamas and donkeys observe a hierarchy in their herd at Niabi, with Paila respected as the dominant member of the group. As such, she always eats first.
When Paila did not get up and approach zookeepers for her feeding, they suspected she was in labor.
"She would sit down and stand up a lot, sit back down and stand up," Stump said. "The keepers knew that was out of the ordinary. When they looked closer, they could tell she was in labor."
The baby alpaca, called a cria, was born at about 3 p.m.
The baby was named Canela, the Spanish word for cinnamon, two days after it was born. Zookeepers found out it was a male a few days later when a veterinarian examined the newborn and said he was healthy.
On a hot Tuesday afternoon at the zoo, baby Canela, sleeping near his father, indeed appeared to be the beautiful color of light cinnamon, the same color as his mother.
A group of visitors working their way through the domestic animals exhibit came upon the alpacas.
"Oh, look! It's a baby one!" a woman said, pointing at Canela. The group stopped, pulled out their phones and took photos, oohing and aahing over the tiny alpaca.
Paila, who was taking a break from her newborn son, walked back into the enclosure to check on him. Canela was awake by that time, still lying next to his father, Mani. Upon seeing his mother, Canela stood up on his spindly legs and began nursing.
"Baby has tried to nurse on Dad a few times, and he doesn't appreciate it," Stump said.
Alpacas originate from South America and are part of the camelid family. Often confused with llamas, alpacas are smaller and live in herds of two or more members.
Stump said Canela was up and walking within the first hour of birth and nursing within four hours.
"Mom was really good directing him to nurse," Stump said. "He was right on schedule."
Stump said she was thrilled with Canela's birth.
"I was really excited," she said. "I was really happy that everything went smoothly and we were able to let nature do what it's supposed to do. And he is pretty darn adorable."
Niabi Zoo open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays until Oct. 27, when it will close for the season.