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Alpacas are the smaller cousins of llamas. Alpacas are native to the Andes Mountains of South America in the countries of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, where they have lived for thousands of years. It is believed that the alpaca is descended from the Vicuña, which has the finest fiber in the world. The Vicuña can not be domesticated, but their little decendents handle domestication very well! See side bar for more on the Vicuña
Once the alpaca fiber has been sheared and processed it is said to be softer than silk, more comfortable than cotton, warmer than synthetics, not scratchy like sheep's wool, and extremely strong, almost indestructible. There have been woven garments found in Peruvian ruins that date back over two thousand years.
Alpaca fiber has no lanolin and is softer and more comfortable to wear than clothing made out of heavier natural fibers. The clothing is hypoallergenic which can be very important to persons with sensitive skin or allergy problems.
Alpacas produce their abundant and luxurious fiber in twenty-two recognized colors, with enough variations to keep dyeing to a minimum. Undyed fiber is even softer and more resilient than dyed fiber. It can be dyed if necessary into a multitude of colors and is perfect for many garments, rugs, throws, or other woven items.
Mom Mandalay with her son Maverik
Alpaca Fiber Facts
Available in over 22 natural colors
Softer than cashmere
Warmer and lighter weight than wool
No prickle factor
Often tolerated by individuals allergic to wool
Has been worn for practical and luxury garments for over 5000 years
Alpacas are perhaps the world's gentlest creatures with a great affinity for children. They are never aggressive, are not large, and they are gentle on the environment. Rather than hooves, they have pads on their feet similar to a dog's, with ony two tonails. Instead of upper incisor teeth, they have only a hard pallet, so they cannot crop grass as sheep or goats do. Alpacas spit as part of their communication with each other but rarely spit at humans.
If Mother Nature had a favorite farm animal, surely alpacas would be at the top of her list! Alpacas are sensitive to their environment in every respect. Their unique physical attributes allow them to maintain harmony with our Mother Earth.
The vicuña or vicugña is one of two wild South American camelids, along with the guanaco, which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes. It is a relative of the llama, and is now believed to share a wild ancestor with domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their fibre. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every 3 years. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña's fur is very soft and warm. It is understood that the Inca valued vicuñas for their wool, and that it was against the law for any but royalty to wear vicuña garments.
Both under the rule of the Inca and today, vicuñas have been protected by law. Before being declared endangered in 1974, only about 6,000 animals were left. Today, the vicuña population has recovered to about 350,000, and while conservation organizations have reduced its level of threat, they still call for active conservation programs to protect population levels from poaching, habitat loss, and other threats.
The vicuña is the national animal of Peru; its emblem is used on the Peruvian coat of arms representing the animal kingdom.