The Alpaca: History
By Linda K. Davis, Owner, Alpaca.com L.L.C.
in the mists of the high Andes and antiquity, a mystical
and almost magical little animal has journeyed over five
millennia in partnership with man. To fully appreciate this
remarkable history, consider the following:
- 1000 years before
the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed, the ancient ancestors
of the Inca were measuring their wealth by the numbers
of alpacas they owned and were enjoying the finest garments
woven from the fleece of their great alpaca herds.
- 2000 years before
King David united the tribes of Israel, members of pre-Incan
nobility were draping themselves in multicolored robes
of gossamer sheen produced from alpaca fiber as they performed
the mysterious rituals of their religion and culture.
- 3000 years before
the Iliad and the Odyssey were transcribed from myth to
parchment, the Peruvian people were expanding a thriving
economy built in part on the commercial value of their
treasured alpacas. Through man's first known use of selective
breeding, they were producing alpacas whose quality of
fleece was far superior to even the best contemporary
- 500 years before
Rome began to build its empire and the warring barbarian
tribes were flooding into the territories of Modern Europe,
the alpaca was firmly entrenched as a major cornerstone
in the Incan empire which encompassed most of the western
side of the South American continent.
And so it remained
for another 2000 years, until the arrival in the New World
of the Spanish conquistadors in the 17th century AD. As
these soldiers of fortune began the orderly conquest and
genocide of the Incan people, another casualty of their
carnage was the little "humming sheep" so prized by their
Incan enemy. The alpaca, which had been treasured for almost
4000 years as a source of highly prized fiber, was viewed
only as a competitor for grazing lands allocated to the
Spaniards' sheep, and therefore most useful as a source
of meat. This deliberate decimation of the great alpaca
herds would have led to the eventual extinction of these
magical little creatures except for one saving turn of fate.
As the surviving Incans sought sanctuary in the highest
reaches of their beloved Andes, they took a few of their
most prized alpacas with them as they began their self-imposed
exile into the mountains' protective mists. In the centuries
that followed, a much more hardy and healthy alpaca developed
in the stern and demanding lands above the clouds, where
survival of the fittest was an absolute and constant reality.
The curtain of
history descended again on the alpaca and remained down
until the mid 1800's, when Sir Titus Salt of London "discovered"
the remarkable fiber of this musical camelid and began promoting
its use in the finest textile mills and fashion houses of
Even with this
limited exposure to the outside world, the alpaca remained
relatively unknown in the United States until 1983, when
a small group of American importers began purchasing small
numbers of these animals from select breeders in South America
and bringing them to their farms as breeding stock.
Today, over three
million alpacas exist worldwide, with 98 percent still located
in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. The alpaca herd in the United
States is estimated at 17,000 and is expected to increase
gradually in the next two decades.
As these amiable
ambassadors of antiquity amble into their sixth millennium
of partnership with their human owners, we wonder what new
and exciting chapters will be written in their already amazing
We can predict
the following with a high degree of certainty:
- The best-kept
secret in animal husbandry is hidden no longer! Alpaca
fiber will become even more prized as textile manufacturers,
fashion designers, and the purchasing public become more
enamored with this remarkable fleece.
- An emphasis
on selective breeding in North America will produce a
healthier alpaca with improved fiber and conformation.
Meticulous genealogical records and tightly monitored
registrations will be maintained on all alpacas in order
to insure progress and control of quality in these vital
- White and near-white alpacas
of high quality will continue to be in great demand due
to their superior genetic structure and worldwide favor.
- Colored alpacas will probably
grow in popularity among North American breeders due to
their intrinsic beauty and the demand for non-dyed natural
fabrics by health-conscious American consumers.
- Prices paid
for quality breeding stock will remain high in the next
decade. Limited supply driven by increasing demand virtually
assures the increasing value of each quality alpaca capable
of reproducing itself.
- AOBA and the regional associations of alpaca breeders will aggressively and effectively market the benefits of owning alpacas and alpaca clothing, thus fueling a dramatic increase in the United States among those willing to invest in alpaca ownership and the appealing lifestyle it offers.
- But the most exciting milestone
in the alpaca's future will be reached when "critical
mass" is achieved. This fusion of fiber, fashion, and
finance will usher in a new golden age for these enduring
and endearing little creatures. When this happens, the
great wheel of history will have completed one full turn,
for the alpaca-so prized in his small and hidden world
5000 years ago, will again enjoy the featured spotlight
on the much bigger stage of worldwide awareness, acceptance,