Alpacas were domesticated by the ancient Incas over 5,000 years ago. To the Incas, status and wealth were counted in cloth, most of it coming from the alpaca. Clothes made of their luxury fiber (hair) were once worn by the Incan Sun Kings. They are still kept in herds that graze the central highlands of the Andes at an altitude of 11,500 ft. to 16,000 ft., mostly in southern Peru , but also in northern Bolivia, and northern Chile. About 93% of the world’s approximately 3 million+ alpacas are found in this region.
The first major importation of alpacas into the U.S. occurred in 1984. Now, there are about 167,000 registered alpacas in the United States on about 15,000 farms or ranches.
The alpaca is truly one of nature’s most beautiful creatures. Like all animals, alpacas exhibit individual personalities but are generally gentle, curious, and respond well to children. Some will come nose-to-nose with you and sniff. They normally live from 15 to 20 years, have an average height of 36 inches at the shoulders, and generally weigh from 100 to 200 pounds.
Alpaca fiber comes in 22 different colors. There are two types of alpacas, classified according to their fiber type. About 81% of the alpacas in the United States are Huacayas. The other 19% are Suris. Huacaya fiber is soft, dense, and crimpy (waves in the hair). It grows perpendicular to the body which gives the alpaca a fluffy and round appearance. Suri fiber is lustrous, silky, no crimp, and grows parallel to the body in long, separate locks. Both are considered luxury fibers in the textile industry. Alpaca fiber is light-weight, warm, durable, soft, and not itchy. Therefore, it is used for making knitted and woven items such as rugs, blankets, sweaters, coats, socks, hats, gloves, and scarves. The designer Armani has used alpaca yarn to make men’s and women’s suits.