Alpacas originate from the Altiplano (Spanish for high plain) in west-central South America. Spanning the borders of Peru, Chile and Bolivia, this area of the Andes averages nearly 4000 metres above sea level.
Alpacas are one of the camelid species, closely related to the llama. There are four species of South American camelid – Llamas (Lama glama) and alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are domesticated and vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) and guanaco (Lama guanicoe) remain wild and are protected species. All four are found mainly in Peru in the Andes, with smaller numbers in Chile and Bolivia.
It is believed that the alpaca and the llama were domesticated from the wild species vicuna and guanaco over 6000 years ago. The alpaca was developed primarily as a fleece producing animal with meat as a secondary product.
The huacaya appearance is due to its fibre growing vertically out of its skin in small bundles with a tight crimped wave which makes the fleece sit vertically off the skin giving it a ‘Teddy Bear’ look. The huacaya fibre is more akin to a woollen process of manufacture.
The suri appearance is due to its fibre growing out of the skin in bundles/locks without any crimped wave. This makes the suri locks twist and hang down along the flank of the alpaca giving it an appearance much like a Wensleydale sheep. The suri fibre at its best is akin to silk and lends itself to the worsted process of manufacture. It is seeing increasing use in men’s suiting and coats.
The llama was developed primarily as a pack animal and has the ability to carry about 25kg of weight on its back and travel 10-12 miles per day up and down the mountains of the Andes.
There are two types of alpaca: A huacaya (pronounced wa-ky-ya) alpaca; A suri alpaca.