The alpacas natural habitat is the Altiplano in the Andes Mountains. If you're lucky enough to take a Peru vacation and tour the countryside, you might see large herds of alpacas for they have existed there for thousands of years.
When we look at the graceful alpaca, it's hard for us to imagine it belongs to the same family as the humped camels you see in africa, but they are camelids.
The camelid family of South America has four species. The Llama, the guanico, the alpaca, and the vicuna. Alpacas are linked to the vicuna more than the llama because they have similar dentition and are similar in size.
Have a hard time telling an alpaca from a llama? We didn't know the difference at first either. Llamas are twice as big as alpacas. The easiest way to tell the difference is to look closely at the shape of their ears. Llama ears are curved like a banana and alpacas' are straight.
Incas and Alpaca History
Can you believe that alpacas have been domesticated for 6,000 years! Yet, they almost didn't make it to the 21st century.
The Inca, a very organized ancient society, treasured the alpaca fiber. They developed the fleece to a very sophisticated level. Only royalty wore the luxurious fiber produced by alpacas.
In the early 1500's, the spanish conquered the Incas. The Spaniards destroyed the Inca civilization and slaughtered alpacas by the millions. This brought alpacas to the brink of extinction.
Some of the native people hid a few alpacas on the remote, harsh altiplano. These few animals survived otherwise this would be the end of the history of alpacas.
Still...the alpaca herds were descimated once again. From 1969 to early 1970's, drought and the killing of alpacas by terrorists destroyed the herds by 50%.
To salvage the animals, the governments of Peru, Chili, and Bolivia allowed alpacas to be exported to America and other countries.
Alpacas came to the U.S. in 1984. The U.S. has a thriving, fledgling alpaca industry with around 2000 large and small alpaca farms. Most farms have 30 animals or less but they are all growing.
Right now the alpaca industry is a breeders market. This means that the animal is far more valuable than its fleece. It seems this trend will continue for many more years as the herds grow.
WOW, we told you the alpaca history was interesting! Now you can appreciate the struggle of these beautiful animals and how they came to America to be saved from further devastation. It would be a shame to loose these gentle creatures for they can bring such joy to people.