Alpaca is a domesticated species of camelid. In fact, Alpaca is the smallest of camelid family, having slim neck and body. Their heads, as well as the whole body, are slender while ears are, conversely, large and acuminate. Some alpacas have unicolorous wool, while others’ coat is varicolored, including about 22 colors: from black to white, from ginger to brown. Lower and upper incisors, along with lower canines, serve adult males as fighting teeth.
All the year round, alpacas live in herds, over a vast territory, covering northern Chile, northern Bolivia, Peruvian Andes and Ecuador. They are kept and pastured at the height of 3.500-5.000 meters (11.500-16.000 feet) above sea level. Currently, alpacas can be found all around the world, from USA to New Zealand, from Australia to Netherlands, due to their exportation from Latin America to other countries, started in 1980-s.
Alpacas are diurnal and social animals. Alpha male is the leader of the herd. As a general rule, herds of alpacas are quite large, covering big territories. Alpha males, in turn, don’t refuse to render protection to a number of females and their young, taking them into the herd. However, once another male comes and overpowers the alpha male, he will straightway become the leader of the herd. And here’s where males start to rival, which brings to serious fights. This rivalries are usually accompanied with shrilly and harsh noises, made by alpha males, having a purpose of warning each other as well as scaring away other alpha males from the herd. The period of alpacas’ highest activity is sunrise and sunset. Especially the young: usually, at this time of day one can observe playful behavior and increased activity of youngsters.
Alpacas are polygynous, i.e. one male can mate with a number of females. Alpacas mate at any time all around the year while gestation period lasts 242-345 days, after which a female gives birth to a single baby, though there have been known cases of twin births. Babies feed upon maternal milk for 6 months and are weaned earlier or later, depending on growth rate. Males reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 years while females are ready to mate much earlier, at the age of 1 year.
Presently, alpacas are not included in the IUCN Red List; the overall population is not endangered. This is partly due to human care as well as through not living in the wild. There are about 3.5 million individuals of alpacas around the world, 87% of which live in Peru and 9.5% - in Bolivia.
Because of specific morphological characteristics, e.g. light weight and padded feet, these animals can’t thicken the soil or damage seedlings and sprouts in their home range. Furthermore, they eat native grasses and forbs present in the ecosystem of their habitat. On the other hand, due to the ability of enduring harsh extremes of temperature, alpacas help people overwinter.
Domestication of Alpacas began 5.000 years ago. However, their popularity is only nowadays becoming internationally acknowledged. Alpacas played crucial role in Inca civilization and culture. Inca civilization originates from Andes Mountains in Latin America, where alpacas have always been highly valued. However, during the Spanish conquest of the region, alpacas became threatened with total extermination. Fortunately, they miraculously survived thanks to their key role and importance for inhabitants of the Ands and amazing ability to endure harsh temperature extremes, unlike all other domestic animals.