The alpaca (Latin Vicugna pacos, camel family) is a herbivorous domestic animal that was domesticated by humans over 6,000 years ago. Unlike llamas, who served as animals for ancient Indian tribes, alpacas were used as a source of value and wool to make warm clothing and shoes.
The ancestors of alpacas are presumably artiodactyl mammals, vicuñas (lat.Vicugna vicugna), common in the Andes, in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. They are much smaller in size than guanacos (animals that became the progenitors of llamas), but they have a great external resemblance to them.
A characteristic feature of vicunas, inherent only in this species, is a pair of lower incisors, which tend to grow constantly (like in rodents) throughout the life of animals. Wild herds of vicunas live on high mountain plateaus, located at an altitude of 4500 – 5500 m. The delicate and thick wool helps animals survive in highlands, where there is a contrasting temperature change.
If the average weight of vicunas is about 50 kg, then in their descendants, alpacas, it reaches 70 kg. Alpacas rarely grow more than one meter. The animals are not suitable for transportation, but their wool quality is recognized as the best in the world. There are two subspecies of alpacas: Suri (lat. Suri) and Wakaya (lat. Huacaya), which differ in the length and density of the coat. Suri is easily recognizable by the long, silky locks of her fur hanging almost to the ground. Wakaya’s coat is not so long, it resembles a very soft and delicate plush. One animal produces from 3 to 6 kg of raw wool per year, from which 1 to 3 kg of valuable yarn can be obtained.
Alpacas are considered centenarians – their average life expectancy is 20 – 25 years, the productive period lasts 14 years. The number of alpacas in their natural habitat today is about 3.5 million. Animals feed on herbaceous plants, weeds, leaves and shoots of perennials; on farms, vegetables, fruits and mineral supplements are added to their diet, which has a positive effect on the quality of the fleece.
Alpacas have a much lower need for food than other farm animals: grazing 25 heads requires a pasture of 1 hectare. In addition, they constantly need fresh water. The physiological feature of these animals is the absence of upper incisors, and therefore they tear off the stems with their lips.
Alpacas are diurnal. In the evening, they are busy chewing food. Since in the wild animals are accustomed to a herd existence, they usually keep in small groups, consisting of several females with cubs and one leader. Alpaca females carry babies for a little over 11 months. Usually one cub is born (twins happen once every 1000 births), the weight of which does not exceed 1 kg.
Alpacas have a very sweet and gentle disposition. Outwardly, they look like long-legged and long-necked sheep. The special structure of their feet, like all representatives of the camelid family, favorably affects the preservation of the natural landscape: alpacas are not able to trample down the grass cover due to the absence of hooves. Attempts to relocate alpacas from the Andes to other mountainous regions (Europe, Africa) were unsuccessful.
But in the farms of the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, where animals were taken for the purpose of domestication and breeding, a significant number of alpacas live. So, today the population of alpacas in the UK numbers about 10 thousand animals, in Germany and Switzerland about 4 thousand, and in Australia – up to 60 thousand. Keeping alpacas and caring for them is not difficult: it is necessary to provide them with food, water and build a corral with a canopy or provide another shelter (clean, unheated room) in case of bad weather.
Alpaca wool is of the greatest economic importance. It is distinguished by its purity, fine fiber and strength. The natural color of the coat ranges from white, cream, beige to brown and black, and has up to 52 shades (according to the classification in Peru).
Alpaca wool is highly resistant to weathering, therefore it is capable of not getting dirty for a long period. It does not contain lanolin, it has lightness, strength, high thermal insulation and water-repellent, hypoallergenic properties. Alpaca wool is used for the production of high quality home textiles, characterized by lightness, soft fiber and excellent warming effect (blankets, blankets, bedspreads), fabrics, yarns and clothing.
In addition to wool, the skin and fur of these animals are highly valued. The excellent taste of alpaca meat also does not go unnoticed. This product has been recognized by nutritionists and culinary specialists as the most delicious, healthy and dietary. 100 g of alpaca meat contains 23 g of protein and a small amount of fat. One adult animal produces up to 23 kg of meat, half of which is intended for cooking sausages, ham, sausages.
Alpacas are often used as pets. They are distinguished by calmness, benevolence, intelligence and complaisance. They can participate in games with disabled children, relieve loneliness for elderly people, serve as a means of psychotherapy for those who suffer from depressive disorders.