Early History of Alpacas

Where do these furry, loveable creatures come from?

A cousin of the llama, the alpaca’s origins come from Andes Mountains in South America. In fact, alpacas go back over 6000 years!

But since written language was hardly around then, alpacas’ early days are kind of hard to pin down. Besides the llama, alpacas are relatives of the hump back camel of Africa. Each belongs to the camelid family of mammals. And while alpacas have a long history, the alpaca almost became extinct after Spanish explorers set out to kill as many of the native animals as possible.

Incas, a highly sophisticated civilization of its time, are the first purveyors of these very docile creatures. They developed the fleece that at the time was some of the most prized fabric in the world.

The Incas of pre-historic South America would separate alpacas according to their color and characteristics. Archaeological evidence suggests alpacas were held in high esteem and even worshipped in Inca society. They in fact identified these creatures as a gift from “Pachmana,” or the Earth Mother.

Incas viewed these animals as a gift loaned to humans provided they were well taken care of.

Alpaca fibers and other textiles in fact formed the basis of this early agrarian economy. In fact, fibers were used as a medium of exchange (like money today) in this ancient society…they were so valuable that Inca fighters set fire to warehouses containing the fiber when they retreated from battle.

Spanish explorers brought the alpaca to near extinction

When Spanish explorers discovered South America in the early 14th century, they grossly underestimated the value of alpaca fibers due to the abundance of gold, silver and other precious metals.

In its effort to conquer the native peoples of Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile, the Spaniards endorsed and actively participated in the wholesale slaughter of these animals…as much as 90% of the alpaca herd in those days were slaughtered and left out in the fields to rot.

Fortunately, the native Incas were able to stave off extinction of alpacas by hiding them in the barren and remote altiplano.

Fading into the background for two or three centuries, the alpacas once again gained prominence during the 19th century and Industrial Revolution. Fabric and finished goods like hats, scarves and other clothing were held in high esteem across Europe during this time.

But with the advent of synthetic fibers, alpacas once again faded into obscurity in the early parts of the 20th century…albeit not as violently as before.

If you’re looking to raise and sell alpacas, the North American Alpaca Catalog can be a great place to showcase your animals. Take a quick look at some of our sample sites and learn more about marketing your alpaca ranch online today.