Camelids – Alpacas
Alpacas, llamas, guanacos and vicunas are part of the camel (camelid) family tree. Treasured by the ancient Inca civilization, there are today about 2.5 million alpacas in the Andean Altiplano region of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
Camelids are a modified ruminant, not only eating less grass than most other animals but converting it to energy very efficiently. Unlike the true ruminant they have three compartments to their stomach not four. It is for these reasons that camelids can survive in areas that would otherwise be unsuitable for other domesticated animals.
The llama is the largest of the camelid family weighing up to 180 kgs and standing approximately 1.25 metres at the shoulder. They produce a long shaggy coat with a range of colours from black to white but including fawns, browns and greys. These
elegant animals with their distinctive ‘banana’ shaped ears are intelligent and strong with a stocky appearance and a gentle disposition. The soft fine undercoat of the fleece is used by handspinners for making a wide range of garments.
Llamas were used by the Incas as beasts of burden, often carrying up to 45 kgs on the high Andean trails.
The guanacos stand at just over a metre at the shoulder and weigh around 90 kgs. Unlike the alpaca and llama, they are classified as a wild animal and have never been domesticated. The guanaco is double coated with a coarse guard hair and soft undercoat which is very highly prized, even above the alpaca.
There is less of a colour range and the animal has a white underbelly, a grey face and small straight ears.
The guanaco is a pack animal with incredible pace when frightened and prefers living in large groups in wide open spaces.
The vicuna is classified a wild animal and is considered an endangered species. Weighing in at 50-55 kgs and standing at about a metre at the shoulder, they are the smallest of the camelid family. The vicuna is cinnamon in colour with an apron of long white hair on its chest. Extremely refined and delicate to look at, the vicuna produces probably the finest fibre of all animals. It is highly prized, rare and commands extremely high prices on the world markets.
Alpacas are thought to have evolved from the wild guanaco and are generally smaller than the llama standing at just under a metre at the shoulder. They produce a wonderful, heavy fleece of fine strong fibre that comes in 22 basic colours including whites, fawns, browns, blacks and greys. A fully fleeced alpaca with good coverage around the face and legs is an extremely beautiful and captivating animal and a good reason why so many farmers and lifestyle block holders have entered the industry. Being smaller than llamas, alpacas are easy to handle and make delightful companions. Alpaca fibre is world renowned for its soft handle and lustre and is often compared to fine merino and cashmere.