Alpacas were first found in recorded history in the high altiplano region of South America, over 6000 years ago. They evolved from the wild guanaco and vicuna and for thousands of years have co-existed with humans as a domesticated livestock providing food, fuel and clothing. Alpacas played an integral part in the culture and lifestyle of the Incas and other Indian tribes and were selectively bred for their fibre density and range of colour. Garments made from alpaca fibre were reserved for Incan royalty – the fibre being almost a virtual secret from the outside world.
With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 17th century, the Incan civilization and the alpaca were almost annihilated. All available grazing lands were taken over by merino sheep introduced by the Spanish and the poor alpaca was forced to higher altitudes above 4000 metres. Decimated in numbers, this hardy animal adapted to the harsh climate and terrain and developed the ability to live on low protein vegetation where only the strongest survived.
Sir Titus Salt experimented with alpaca fibre and in 1836 he discovered a way of manufacturing alpaca cloth. This discovery paved the way for exports of fibre to Europe. A shipment of alpacas was smuggled out of South America in the 1860’s but it was not until 1984 that the first serious attempt was made to import alpacas into North America.
Today alpacas have found their way into the USA (110,000 alpacas), Canada (20,000 alpacas), Australia (100,000 alpacas), New Zealand (10,000 alpacas), England (17,000 alpaca), Germany (7,000 alpacas)and various parts of Europe(approximately 5,000 alpacas). Whilst the South American alpaca population has grown to several million, the population in the rest of the world is less than 10% of this total.