Alpacas originate from the Altiplano (or high plain) in South America; with Peru, Bolivia, Equador and Chile still home to the largest percentage of alpacas in the world. Herds of alpacas will graze at an altitude of between 3,500m and 5000m above sea level…very different to their home here at Queenholme in the Cambridgeshire Fens!
Alpacas form part of the South American camelid family, with the other three members being llamas, vicuñas and guanacos. Alpacas and llamas were believed to be domesticated by the Incas over 6,000 years ago, with alpacas being primarily bred for their fine fleece, and llamas developed as pack animals, capable of carry loads of around 25kg and travelling up to 12 miles per day. The guanaco and vicuña remain wild species and exist mainly in the southern parts of America. Vicuña, the smallest of the camelids, are incredibly shy and nervous animals, and are a protected species due to their vulnerable status.
There are two types of alpaca; Suri and Huacaya (pronounced Wa-kai-ya), with the main difference between the two being in their fleece. Huacaya’s are fluffy, almost like teddy bears, whereas Suri’s have a long, curly fleece that resembles dreadlocks. The Suri is the rarer type, and make up only 15% of the world alpaca population.
An adult female alpaca is called a Hembra and an adult male is a Macho. A Hembra will have a gestation of between eleven and twelve and a half months, and will give birth to offspring called Cria. It would be very unlikely for her to produce any more than one cria at a time.