From grieving mothers to mental health patients and victims of violence, Nils Lantzke’s alpacas have helped Canberrans cope with trauma for 17 years.
As the operator of Canberra’s only alpaca therapy provider, Mr Lantzke has spent years watching the animals form special bonds with people doing it tough at hospice wards, aged care homes, funerals and more.
But the 68-year-old has made the difficult decision wind up his beloved Alpaca Therapy program, which has brought comfort to countless people.
“We’ve helped half the population of Canberra, I suppose,” he joked.
“Being able to put smiles on people’s faces, that was all I ever wanted to do. Although it was hard at times, we’ve always managed to get people smiling.”
The animals have helped countless Canberrans deal with grief, stress and trauma.(ABC News: Emma Thompson)
Even before getting his first alpaca, Mr Lantzke worked with vulnerable people and saw firsthand the positive effect animals could have.
During his early years as a hospice volunteer at the Royal Canberra Hospital, he brought in a baby rabbit for a young woman who had lost her vision because of a brain tumour.
“When I gave her the baby rabbit, her smile was just unbelievably beautiful,” he said.
“And so, when I got our first alpaca in October 2003, and I saw the effect he had on people, I knew that I had something special.”
Since then, Mr Lantzke and his herd of alpacas made regular visits to vulnerable Canberrans, ranging from school and university students to patients suffering from severe mental health trauma.
To Mr Lantzke, his alpacas are like his children.(ABC News: Emma Thompson)
“On a number of occasions, there were young women who didn’t speak because of physical or sexual trauma. They would wander off and sit down with an alpaca to have a conversation. It was really beautiful to watch,” he said.
“They’re very sensitive to people and they know when they’re hurting.
“They will give them a kiss or nuzzle their hands. To a lot of people, it sort of seems unbelievable, but when you’ve seen them working, it’s very real.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the charity, with volunteers now hard to come by and visits to local venues no longer permitted.
Mr Lantzke, a former skydiver, is also suffering from his own health problems and was forced to relocate the herd from his backyard in Canberra’s north to a farm in Wallaroo just outside the ACT border.
“[It] just about broke my heart. It was a decision that had to be made. I had to think of their welfare and not mine,” he said.
“They’re everything. They’re my children and you would do anything for your children. They’re wonderful creatures.”
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The charity has faced trauma of its own too; there was public outcry two years ago after one of the animals was fatally mauled by a dog while its owner allegedly filmed it.
But Mr Lantzke said the community had always been by his side.
“They’ve allowed the alpacas and me into their lives and that’s pretty special. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to help all these people,” he said.
“The whole time we’ve just met the most wonderful people, couldn’t have asked for better.
“I’ve found my passion in life, and to the best of my ability, I’ve lived that, and done the best I can.”

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