Alpaca were domesticated from vicugna by the Incans around the thirteenth century. They are larger and heavier than their wild counterpart. There are two breeds of alpaca; the huacaya, which has long crimped hair, and the suri, which has silkier and faster growing hair. The fur can be any of 22 different colours mostly shades of black, brown and white.
As a social animal, it is necessary to keep alpaca in herds. They will happily associate with other species such as goats. A herd of 5-10 can be kept on an acre of land. Alpaca were domesticated for their coat. The fibre was used by the Incan royalty due to its quality. It is available worldwide today and considered softer than cashmere but stronger than sheeps wool.
Alpaca will breed year round if kept in a herd with one male and several females. The infants are born well developed and will stand within a few hours. The mother will not approach her infant to nurse it until it stands. They are weaned at six to eight months and until this time alpaca offspring are called crias.
The diet of alpaca is mainly short grass and hay. They have special teeth that are constantly growing and are worn down by grazing.
The wild ancestor, vicugna, are hunted for their fleece, which is still considered a valuable commodity. They are disliked by locals who believe they are competitors for domestic livestock. Domestication is continuing in the form of pacovicuña, an alpaca-vicugna hybrid, bred for commercial purposes. It has the appearance of a vicugna and is considered to have a superior coat to the alpaca and vicugna.
- Conservation Status: Domestic
- Distribution: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru
- Habitat: Grassland, Mountains
- Diet: Grasses
- Height: 0.9 - 1.3 metres
- Weight: 55 - 65 kg
- Gestation: 330 - 350 days
- No. of young: 1
- Life Span: 20 years