Alpacas are very friendly and cute animals. They are environmental friendly and they are producers of some of the finest fleece on the planet! Only Vicunas are superior. Alpacas, vicunas, llamas and guanacos belong to the family of camelids. Alpacas, weighing 100 to 180 pounds, are smaller compared to llamas. There are two different breeds of alpacas – Huacaya and Suri. Alpacas have to be shorn once a year.
Alpaca fleece exhibits 23 different natural colours, ranging from white to fawn, brown, grey and even black.
Usually they give birth to only one baby every year.
They originated from the Andes mountains in South America, namely Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They were domesticated by the ancient inhabitants of the Altiplano, the Incas, thousands of years back. At the times of the Incas, only royals and clerics were allowed to wear alpaca fleece clothing. It was called the “The Fibre of the Gods” or the “Gold of the Andes”. While the hair of sheep is called wool, the hair of alpacas and vicunas is named fleece to highlight the unique quality. When the Spanish conquered Peru they decimated the alpaca herds and alpacas were almost eliminated. In the last century the government of Peru encouraged the native population again to breed Alpacas to boost the economy.
Meanwhile 3.5 million alpacas live in South America. The first alpacas, in considerable numbers, were exported to North America, Australia and New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s later to Europe.
The number of Alpacas living in North America now reaches 150,000 and exceeds 200,000 in Australia.
Vicunas, living in the Andes mountains of Peru, are still not domesticated and their export is prohibited. This secures a monopoly to Peru to produce and export vicuna fleece. Vicuna fleece is the most exclusive and expensive exotic fibre of the world. Vicunas produce less fleece compared to alpacas. They are shorn every three or four years in big events called Chaccu.
We would like to mention briefly another breed, the paco-vicunas. They are a mix of vicunas and alpacas exhibiting more of the fineness of vicunas, but they give a little bit more fleece compared to vicunas. In this regard they are nearer to alpacas. Nevertheless, currently it is uneconomic to breed them for their fleece.