Family: Camelidae -llama, guanaco, alpaca and vicuna
Scientific Name: Lama pacos
Description: White, white with brown patches, black or rich dark brown. Two toes on hoof. Height 3-4 ft. Weight 120-145 lbs. Divided top lip. Long eyelashes. Continually growing, sharp lower teeth. Fine wool measuring up to 19.5 inches long.
Home Range: Southern Peru to Northern Chile and Argentina. Large herds are beingbuilt up in South America and the United States.
Habitat Type: High mountains, forests, and coastal plains, high plains, sparse and rough terrain.
Reproductive Habits: Sexual maturity at 2 years. Breeding season is August to September. Gestation is 11 months. Have 1 calf every other year. May birth standing or laying down. Don’t clean the young. Babies are called crias. At birth, they weigh about 20 pounds, and are on their feet within an hour. At 9 months, they weigh approximately 65 lbs. Their creamy white coats may darken as they mature. In the wild, herds are made up of an adult male, several females and young. Young animals are evicted from the herd at 13-15 months of age. Only the dominant male breeds with the females. The alpaca’s reproductive rate is low due to a high number of miscarriages. Many young die from food shortages and the demands of life at high altitudes.
Breeding of domesticated animals is much different. Males and females are separated and only selected males are allowed to breed. Non-breeding males are castrated, which eliminates their sex drive and prevents them from fighting.
Diet in Wild: Grass and related herbage.
Diet in Zoo: ADF 16 pellets, alfalfa, trace mineral salt block.
General Info: Alpaca are thought to be descendants of the wild guanaco. Alpaca have been valued and domesticated for 4000-5000 years. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, alpaca numbered in the tens of millions. It has been bred ever since for its wool, meat, skin and milk, and manure was used for fuel. The wool was woven into robes worn by the Inca royalty, and was used by the Inca’s to make most of their textiles.
The alpaca is so closely related to the llama, guanaco, and vicuna that they can interbreed and produce fertile young. Alpaca have a high number of red blood cells so that they can extract enough oxygen from the thin mountain air to survive. They walk on pads at the ends of their toes instead of their hooves, making them sure footed on rocky ground. Alpaca are shorn once a year. Because they have a mind of their own it is very difficult to shear them, and they will definitely resist. The alpaca’s thick wool coat enables it to survive in the below-freezing temperatures of the high plains of the Andes. Because of the shelter of barns, cria coats, and proper management, birthing can take place in most of the cold climates of the U.S. without difficulty.
Alpaca are strictly grazers. With its divided top lip and continually growing teeth, the Alpaca can graze on the tough grass it must eat to survive. It grazes in small groups, moving slowly and searching for the most tender shoots. Food is often scarce, but they can survive on very little. In the winter, excess forage left by domestic animals may provide additional food, such as grass or alfalfa hay. They are ruminants that feed by day and sleep at night. Twice a day, they sit down to chew their cud, which extracts maximum nutrition from poor grazing forages.
Peru supplies almost all of the world’s alpaca fiber, exporting 90 percent of the total supply. The alpaca is selectively bred for its wool, which is the finest of any animal’s. The wool has a luminous, silky sheen. It is revered for its tensile strength which, when mixed with a number of other fibers to create different types of textiles, makes it most desirable in the world markets.
Today, there are about 3.5 million alpaca, none of which are considered truly wild. In recent decades, the alpaca and llama have decreased in importance to man as improved transportation of goods makes sheep more economical to produce wool.
Working with Suri Fiber. Exotic and Livestock Magazine. August, 1997.
Alpaca. Wildlife Fact File. 1991. Card # 162.
National Geographic Book of Mammals. Vol. II. 1991. National Geographic Society. pp. 342-347.
Walkers Mammals of the World. Vol. II. Ronald M. Nowak. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London. 1991. pp. 1353.
Alpaca. The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Animal Life. Maurice Burton. The Hamelyn Publishing Group and Bonanza Books. 1987. pp. 593.
Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. Dr. H. C. Bernhard Grzimek. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, NY. pp. 146-147.