1902 Encyclopedia > Alpaca


ALPACA is a name applied generally to several, allied South American wool-bearing animals, but more properly restricted to one of the species. It is further used to distinguish the wool obtained from these animals, and the woven textures manufactured from the wool are also known as alpacas. The alpacas or llamas are natives of the lofty table-lands and mountain-range of the Andes in Peru and Chili, and in that region of the globe they long occupied the position held in the Old World by their congeners of larger size, the camels. To the ancient Peruvians the llamas were the only available beasts of burden and wool-bearing creatures, just as to the present clay the camel is to the tribes of the Asiatic deserts. The camel (Camelus) and the llama (Auchenia) form the two existing genera of the family Canielidce; and thus in a zoological sense also the one represents the other in different regions of the earth. A great deal of doubt and confusion has existed as to the number of species into which the llamas can be divided - a very common occurrence in dealing with domesticated or semi-domesticated creatures. Most authorities now, however, agree in regarding them as separable into four species, following the classification of Von Tschudi, who has given much careful consideration to the subject. The species, according to that naturalist, are the llama (Auchenia lama), the huanaco or guanaco (A. huanaco), the alpaca, or paco (A. paco), and the vicugna (A. vicunna.) The two first-named species are, or rather were, more valued as beasts of burden, and for their flesh, than as sources of wool, being able to bear from 120 to 150 lb burden over long distances daily. The guanaco attains a size not much less than our red deer; and is the largest and most widely spread of all the species, being found from the equator southward to Patagonia. The llama is next in size, but its habitat is limited to the loftier mountains of North Peru. Although both species yield a serviceable quality of wool, which is used by the Peruvians and found in commerce, it is chiefly to the alpaca we owe the supply of wool imported into this country under that name. The alpaca is considerably smaller than either the llama or the guanaco, but in general outline all the species resemble each other. In its native condition the alpaca ranges :between 10° and 20° S. lat., from the centre of Peru into Bolivia, not coming lower down in vertical distribution than between 8000 and 9000 feet above the sca-level. At and above these heights it lives in herds in a semidomesticated condition, being only driven into the villages to be shorn. The wool, which varies in length from 2 to 6 inches, is of a very lustrous and fine quality, and is mostly white, black, or gray, shades of brown or fawn being rarer. The vicugna is a much rarer animal than the alpaca, being found sparsely scattered from Ecuador, throughout Peru, into Bolivia, but seldom descending under 13,000 feet above the sea-level. It is about the same size as the alpaca, and yields an exceedingly delicate wool, varying in colour from a reddish yellow to a dull white. It is usually worth about twice as much as alpaca, and is greatly valued for fine felts.

There is evidence of these animals having been held domesticated and used for their wool in their native regions horn remote antiquity. Remains of clothing made from alpaca wools have been found in the graves of the Incas; and when, in the early part of the 16th century, Europeans first visited Peru, these animals formed the chief wealth of the natives, being the carriers of their commerce as well as the main source of their food and clothing. Small quantities of the wool were occasionally met with in English commerce; but it was not till 1836 that it became established as a regular trading commodity with Europe. In that year Mr (now Sir) Titus Salt, a wool-broker and manufacturer in Bradford, purchased a quantity he met with in a Liverpool warehouse at 8d. per lb, and set himself to discover its capabilities. The amount and manner of his success will be described in the articles Wool, and WORSTED MANUFACTURES; it need only be remarked here that his .oxperiments have resulted in making alpaca a staple second in importance to wool, and so creating an industry of great and rapidly increasing dimensions. The success of his experiments led to the erection of his great manufacturing establishment of Saltaire, in which upwards of 3000 hands are employed in the alpaca manufacture. The quantity of alpaca imported into England from 1836 - the year of Sir Titus Salt's first experimental purchase - to 1840, averaged 560,800 lb yearly, which sold at about 101 per lb. In 1852 the imports had risen to 2,186,480 ti.), and the price advanced to 2s. 6d. per lb. In 1864 the imports amounted to 2,664,027 lb, and in 1872 they were 3,878,739 lb; the value of average qualities being from 2s. Gd. to 2s. 10d. per lb. The introduction of the various species of llama into au ope has been frequently urged, Geoffroy St Hilaire and other French naturalists having specially pointed out the desirability of their introduction into France, and at one time a herd existed in the Pyrenees; but in Europe the creatures must be still regarded as curiosities of zoological collections. In 1859 systematic and costly attempts were made to acclimatise the alpaca in our Australian colonies by Mr Ledger, a gentleman who had devoted many years to observation of the conditions of life of the animal. At first the experiment presented most encouraging prospects; the herds continued healthy and increased in numbers; but gradually the subtle influences of the loss of their native mountain climate became apparent, - the creatures drooped, their numbers dwindled, and for the present the undertaking must be regarded as a complete failure.

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