An alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid. It resembles a small llama in appearance. There are two breeds of alpaca; the Suri alpaca and the Huacaya alpaca.
Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador, and northern Chile at an altitude of 3,500 m (11,500 ft) to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) above sea level, throughout the year.
Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas, and unlike llamas, they were not bred to be beasts of burden, but were bred specifically for their fibre. Alpaca fibre is used for making knitted and woven items, similar to wool. These items include blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in South America, and sweaters, socks, coats and bedding in other parts of the world. The fibre comes in more than 52 natural colours as classified in Peru, 12 as classified in Australia and 16 as classified in the United States.
An adult alpaca generally is between 81 and 99 cm in height at the withers. They usually weigh between 48 and 84 kg (106 and 185 lbs).
Alpacas are too small to be used as pack animals, moreover, they are bred exclusively for their fibre and meat. Alpaca meat was once considered a delicacy by Andean inhabitants. Because of the high price commanded by alpaca on the growing North American alpaca market, illegal alpaca smuggling has become a growing problem.
Alpacas and llamas can successfully cross-breed. The resulting offspring are called huarizo, which are valued for their unique fleece and gentle dispositions. They are social herd animals that live in family groups consisting of a territorial alpha male, females and their young.
Alpacas warn the herd about intruders by making sharp, noisy inhalations that sound like a high-pitched bray. The herd may attack smaller predators with their front feet, and can spit and kick. Not all alpacas spit, but all are capable of doing so. “Spit” is somewhat euphemistic; occasionally the projectile contains only air and a little saliva, although alpacas commonly bring up acidic stomach contents (generally a green, grassy mix) and project it onto their chosen targets.
Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas, but an alpaca will occasionally spit at a human.
For alpacas, spitting results in what is called “sour mouth”. Sour mouth is characterized by a loose-hanging lower lip and a gaping mouth. This is caused by the stomach acids and unpleasant taste of the contents as they pass out of the mouth.
Most alpacas do not like being grabbed. Some alpacas tolerate being stroked or petted anywhere on their bodies, although many do not like their feet, lower legs, and especially their abdomen touched or handled.
Alpacas use a communal dung pile, where they do not graze. This behaviour tends to limit the spread of internal parasites. Generally, males have much tidier, and fewer dung piles than females, which tend to stand in a line and all go at once. One female approaches the dung pile and begins to urinate and/or defecate, and the rest of the herd often follows.
Because of their preference for using a dung pile, some alpacas have been successfully house-trained.
With regards to the process of reproduction females are “induced ovulators”; the act of mating and the presence of semen causes them to ovulate. Females usually conceive after just one breeding, but occasionally do have troubles conceiving. Artificial insemination is technically difficult, but it can be accomplished.
A male is usually ready to mate for the first time between one and three years of age. A female alpaca may fully mature (physically and mentally) between 12 and 24 months. It is not advisable to allow a young female to be bred until she is mature, as over-breeding a young female, before conception is possible, is a common cause of uterine infections. As the age of maturation varies greatly between individuals, it is usually recommended that novice breeders wait until females are 18 months of age or older before initiating breeding.
The gestation period is 345 ± 15 days, and usually results in a single offspring, or cria. Twins are rare, occurring about once per 1000 deliveries. After a female gives birth, she is generally receptive to breeding again after about two weeks. Crias may be weaned through human intervention at about six months old and 60 pounds, but many breeders prefer to allow the female to decide when to wean her offspring; they can be weaned earlier or later depending on their size and emotional maturity.
Alpacas require much less food than most animals of their size. They generally eat hay or grasses, but can eat some other plants (e.g. some leaves), and will normally try to chew on almost anything (e.g. empty bottle). Most alpaca ranchers rotate their feeding grounds so the grass can re-grow and faecal parasites may die before reusing the area.
(Source: Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia)
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