The Alpaca, along with the Llama, were treasured animals for the Inca civilization and an integral part of everyday life in the Andean region. Earlier pastoral herders experimented with reproduction of their animals. Through the gradual process of trial and error, they learned the intricacies of artificial selection. By 3000 or 4000 B.C., the ancient Guanaco hunters had successfully created two new races of animals; the Llama and the Alpaca.
Where the Llamas were used as a means of transportation and communication, the Alpacas were used for garments (fiber), fertilizer, and fuel. The Alpaca's finest fibers were considered of such value that they were only used by Inca royalty. They considered the Alpaca as a source of wealth and used it as legal money. Nowadays, the Alpaca is the key component to the economy of over 65,000 rural families, named Pastores Alpaqueros or Indian herders/breeders, in the Andean region of Peru.
These families practice a traditional breeding system that has been passed on from father to son and share the same native environment as the animals they herd. The women maintain the spinning and weaving traditions of their ancestors and make rugs, mats, sweaters, gloves, socks, hats, belts, jackets, etc. that are worn by their families or sold at local markets. Family-owned businesses and Pastores Alpaqueros depend on the Alpaca for their survival and well-being.
Alpacas are indigenous to the Peruvian highlands, where they were domesticated thousands of years ago. Alpacas are bred at altitudes ranging from 10,000 to over 14,000 feet (3,000 to +4,500 meters) above sea level and withstand temperatures that fluctuate between 65 °F to over 85 °F (20 °C to +30 °C) in a single day. The highlands provide a low-protein diet based on natural grasses that help grow their fine hair.
Properties of Fiber
Peru is the main producer and exporter of alpaca fiber/fleece in the world, producing 4,000 tons of fiber annually. Alpaca fiber, considered a luxury fiber, usually rivals the popularity of such fine fibers as cashmere and pashmina due to its natural properties. It is a smooth, velvety, very lightweight, soft, and durable fiber. If 100% pure, alpaca wool is absolutely thermal due to its hollow fiber and microscopic air pockets, so you will never lose your body heat and will be able to breath in warm weather. Also, alpaca fibers do not let water or dust settle. Alpaca hair also comes in more than 24 natural shades, which makes it an attractive alternative for top designers world-wide.
Two Types of Alpaca
Suri is the least predominant Alpaca type because of its long, shiny and silky fiber. Its fleece comes in a narrow range of natural shades (whites, fawns and light browns) and its shape has an eye-catching look due to its long hair.
Huacayo is the predominant Alpaca type.Its fine and bulky fleece offers the widest range of natural shades and has a natural crimp or wavy quality. They have a harmonious shape giving the appearance of strength and gracefulness.