Alpacas have flourished in South America for several thousand years. Alpacas have been domesticated for over 6,000 years and are among the oldest domesticated animals in the world.
Alpacas belong to the camel family Camelidae. Camelid ancestors evolved in North America 40 million years ago and migrated to South America across a Carribbean land bridge were they gradually evolved into the four species known there today: llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuna.
The domestication of alpacas and the processing of alpaca fleece was a cornerstone of Incan empire which flourished until they were conquered by the Spanish. The Spaniards slaughtered 90% of the alpacas as well as the Incan people. They took the best pasture for their cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs, forcing the surviving Incan llama and alpaca herds into the highlands known as the Antiplano. There, because of their remarkability to adapt, these animals survived that harsh environment.
It was not until the mid-1800′s that alpaca fiber was rediscovered. An English wool importer, Sir Titus Salt, noticed some alpaca in his shipment of sheep’s wool from Peru. This marked the renewal of alpaca fiber as a fine textile product. For the next 100 years the British mills were the main importers of the alpaca fleece production when it was discovered and taken over by multinational corporations.
Alpacas were imported into the United States from 1984-1997. Alpacas are currently being raised in all fifty states as well as in countries around the world including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England, Spain, France, Poland, Israel, and China.