Alpacas are ancient animals whose origins are lost in the mists of time. Fossil records indicate that they once inhabited North America. Today, the alpaca is found indigenously only in South America with the largest populations in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Once worshipped by the native peoples of the high Andes, the alpaca, and its cousin the more familiar llama, were the only domesticated livestock in the New World when the first Europeans arrived. Herds of alpacas are still tended by native herds-people in their natural home among the high peaks of the Andean altiplano.
When the Spanish first made contact with the Inca culture of South America, they were blinded by visions of gold and jewels. In their determination to eradicate the alpaca and subjugate the native people, they failed to see the true treasure of the Andes.
Inca society was a textile society, and alpaca, cotton, and to a lesser extent llama, were the fibers from which the fabric of the culture was woven. Alpacas produced a fiber so exquisite that fabric made from it was reserved for the exclusive use of royalty. Even today archeologists find remnants of cloth made of alpaca fiber that are nearly 2000 years old - a testament to the durability of alpaca!
As part of the efforts to subjugate the native peoples, alpacas were driven nearly to extinction. By the 1700's only a small remnant of the native herds remained, those being confined to the high altiplano region in Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
In the 1800's the wondrous fiber of the alpaca was rediscovered by Sir Titus Salt who used alpaca fleece to manufacture clothing for the elite and noble classes in England.
Today most alpaca textiles are produced in the Arequipa region of Peru. However, yarns made of alpaca fibers find their way into the productions of high end clothing designers around the world, from Italy to Japan.
In the 1980's the first alpaca was imported into the United States. Since then the North American herd has grown to over 100,000 alpacas. A solid base for the future of the North American alpaca industry has been firmly established. Alpacas continue to maintain high prices reflecting the demand for these gentle creatures and their fabulous fiber. The national herd is expected to grow slowly as the foundations of the alpaca industry solidify, develop and mature.