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It all began when an ances­tral camel from North Amer­i­ca migrat­ed to Asia and South Amer­i­ca. Two basic species evolved in South Amer­i­ca: the gua­na­co and the vicuña. Both exist in the wild to this day. Fol­low­ing a major peri­od of glacial melt­ing around 10,000 years ago, low-lying pas­ture land was flood­ed, forc­ing the ani­mals to move to high­er regions. Here, they were fol­lowed by humans, who began to domes­ti­cate them. Archae­o­log­i­cal find­ings sug­gest that it took a long time before these efforts were suc­cess­ful – around 7,000 years ago. The lla­ma was bred from the gua­na­co as a beast of bur­den and a source of meat. The hua­caya and the suri, with their dif­fer­ent fibres and colours, were bred from the vicuña.

The Incas mas­tered the art of breed­ing alpacas, achiev­ing an unri­valled lev­el of per­fec­tion. In the hey­day of the Inca Empire, alpacas were pure in colour. The fleece was equal to that of the vicuña in terms of fine­ness. The diam­e­ter was sig­nif­i­cant­ly below 15 microns, which is rare nowa­days. Suris were the exclu­sive reserve of the noble class­es. How­ev­er, the Span­ish con­quest had a dra­mat­ic impact on the peo­ple and ani­mals liv­ing in South Amer­i­ca. With­in a sin­gle cen­tu­ry, almost 95% of the pop­u­la­tion as well as a sim­i­lar pro­por­tion of indige­nous camelids were wiped out, either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly through disease.

In the fol­low­ing 500 years, the sur­viv­ing ani­mals con­tin­ued to evolve in a pro­tect­ed area of refuge called the Alti­plano, a high plateau in the area con­nect­ing Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Inter­breed­ing with lla­mas result­ed in genet­ic hybrids, which now account for about 80% of all alpacas. This com­pro­mised the puri­ty of the fibre.

Since the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, the alpaca has expe­ri­enced a renais­sance. Accord­ing to cur­rent esti­mates, there are approx­i­mate­ly 3.5 mil­lion ani­mals in Peru today, com­pris­ing around 80% of the glob­al alpaca pop­u­la­tion. How­ev­er, this fig­ure is in decline. Due to urban migra­tion, areas of land are being neglect­ed and aban­doned herds are dying off. Gov­ern­ment projects to pro­mote alpaca breed­ing have had only lim­it­ed suc­cess because these do not ben­e­fit remote regions. We there­fore treat our alpacas as a rare and valu­able com­mod­i­ty. We hope to play a role in ensur­ing that the hus­bandry of these won­der­ful crea­tures re-estab­lish­es the qual­i­ty seen in cen­turies past and has a cer­tain future.

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