The alpaca was domesticated by the pre-hispanic civilizations of the Peruvian Andes, now they can be found all over South America in Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. They have been imported for their fleece and companionship all over the world.
The Camelids are found along the foothills of the Andean Mountain Range in all different areas including Altiplano, the Salar de Uyuni,around the hydrographic basins of Lake Titicaca and Lake Poopó, the Desaguadero River, temporary lakes, and in a number of valleys.
3,500 to 5,000 metres (11,000 to 16,000 feet) above sea level.
Most of the alpacas are found in the Altiplano plateau stretching from the bottom of Peru, Bolivia, the Eastern edge of Chile and Argentina. They live in an area of very high altitude where the temperature can change rapidly and the ground can be frosted over half the year
There is not a lot of diversity where the alpacas live because there is very limited oxygen in such high elevations. They live near flamingos, condors,spectacled bears, mountain lions, coyotes and llamas. There is no agriculture were the alpaca lives, the economy is based on livestock.
The evolution of alpacas began nine to 11 million years ago in North America. The ancestor of all modern camelids was called Hemiauchenias and looked like an oversized, long-limbed, longnecked llama.
The camelid ancestor migrated to South America approximately three million years ago via the Isthmus of Panama. Around the same time the ancestor of camels migrated across the Bering Strait to Asia.
Around 12,000 years ago the ancestor of the alpaca moved from the lowlands to the high Andes as the glaciers retreated.
Around the same time all of the camelid ancestors in North America became extinct. In South America modern camelids continued to thrive in the upland plateau of the Andes (Altiplano). This plateau stretches across the SW of Peru, NE of Chile, West of Bolivia and NW of Argentine where alpacas continue to thrive today
As a result of the harsh mountain environment on the Andes the Vicuña (the wild ancestor of the alpaca) developed into alert hardy animals.
The Altiplano has low humidity and an annual rainfall of 24cm. Three hundred nights of the year the temperature drops below freezing and can drop to as low as -20˚C. During the day, however, the temperature can rise up to 24˚C
DOMESTICATION OF THE WILD VICUÑA
The earliest evidence for domestication of both llama and alpaca comes from archaeological sites located in the Puna region of the Peruvian Andes, between 4000 - 4900 m (13,000-14,500 ft) above sea level. At Telarmachay rockshelter, located 170 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of Lima,faunal evidence from the long-occupiedsite traces an evolution of human subsistence related to the camelids.The first hunters in the region (~9000-7200 years ago), lived on generalized hunting of guanaco, vicuña and huemul deer. Between 7200-6000 years ago,they switched to specialized hunting of guanaco and vicuña. Control of domesticated alpacas and llamas was in effect by 6000-5500 years ago, anda predominant herding economy based on llama and alpaca was established at Telarmachay by 5500 years ago.
Evolved and Raised, not made
Enhanced through time
Fibers of the greatest quality
The Pukara indians of Lake Titicaca Region of Southern Peru were the first true alpaca breeders. Much later, during the Inca Empire period, the Incas were remarkably successful in further refining the alpaca. They used rigid breeding control, which required considerable record-keeping and organized labor for generations, to greatly enhance the quality of the fiber.
In fact, archaeologists have found mummified remains of alpacas at ritual Incan burial sites whose fiber is far finer than any of our modern day alpacas.
The Inca people revered their alpacas. They had little use for precious metals; status and wealth were measured in cloth. The Incas furthered the natural effects of the evolution of alpacas by selectively breeding for fineness and consistency in their fleece. The textile industry in the Inca Empire was state controlled and highly regimented in order to ensure quality fiber for their own use and for trade with other Andean cultures for peaceful conquest via agricultural safety and training.
The Spanish invasion of 1532 destroyed the organized breeding program established by the Incas. The enormous alpaca herds were all but eliminated. Survivors were forced into the higher altiplano elevations.The prime grazing lands were taken by the Spaniards for their more valued sheep and cattle.
The alpacas ran together with llama herds in the inhospitable altiplano. Living conditions were rough: arrid, rocky ground; sparse vegetation;and temperatures that would freeze any newborn born at night.Today, there are approximately 4,000,000 alpacas in Peru, with much lower numbers in Bolivia, and Chile. Although there are a few large landowners with sophisticated breeding programs in Peru, the majority of the alpacas are being bred and raised by local shepherds in their ancestral mountainous environment.
This migration saved the alpaca from extinction, but not before most of the alpaca population was lost to hunting and disease. Of the estimated 40-50 million alpacas in the precolonial era, less than 3 million existed in Peru by 1980.