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 (Lama 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. Alpacas were domesticated from the wild vicuna into alpaca six to seven thousand years ago. The Incas were very successful in further refining the alpaca for better fibre quality. When the Spanish invaded Peru in 1532, they destroyed the breeding programmes and the alpacas were decimated in numbers and quality in favour of sheep. There are now thought to be about 3.5 million alpacas in South America and they are now being successfully bred in North America, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, China and throughout Europe.
Alpaca fibre is desired by the fashion industry and yarn producers because it is a hollow fibre, making it very light but extremely warm. It is a very strong fibre and yet it is soft and silky. It has a high lustre which gives the garments a sheen without an artificial shininess. It also has high durability and washes very well. Unlike sheep wool it does not contain lanolin and so it is hypoallergenic. There are 22 natural colours including true black but it also accepts dye readily. The fibre is also quite fire resistent.
Alpaca fibre can be used for clothing, rugs, duvets and soft furnishings. The fibre is very popular with hand spinners because it is easy to work with and beautifully warm. We often have alpaca wool here at the Centre for sale if you are interested.
Our Alpacas, Rolo and Polo, are at the Centre for your enjoyment. Both Rolo and Polo are quite accepting of our visitors, but they are animals with attitude! Occasionally, when worried or unhappy, or if you stare them in the eye, they will spit from the bottom of their belly! This is totally harmless, and a point of great discussion and amusement. Amazingly, alpacas have 22 methods of communicating, and sometimes you can enjoy their great vocabulary! They are lovely companions.