The Alpaca & Llama - New World Camelids

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29th November 2005

Alpaca & Llamas
Llamas, Alpacas, Guanacos and Vicunas are collectively known as New World Camelids.  Originally they all came from Central America, are all members of the camelid family and are related to Bactrian and Dromedary camels.
 
Alpacas and Llamas are almost certain descendants of the wild, and now rare, Guanacos and Vicunas of Central America.  Both the Guanacos and Vicuna are undomesticated and are considered endangered species.
 
Llamas are traditionally pack animals and the largest of the South American Camelids.  Weighing up to 180kgs and standing approximately 1.25m at the shoulder the Llama is a strong, intelligent and hardy animal with a gentle temperament and inquistive nature.  The Llama has distinctive 'banana' shaped ears and can be found in a large range of colours from solid white to black with varying shages and mixes of brown and grey hair.  The Llama has a double coat, an outer coat of course 'guard hair' and an undercoat of soft fine down, much sought after by hand spinners.  The fibre is used for making many kids of garments, guard hairs can be used for making wall hangins and rugs.
 
Alpacas, which are smaller than Llamas, stand at approximately 0.92m at the shoulder and weigh on avergae 68 kg.  They produce a superb, heavy fleece of fine, stonge fibre which will grow down to the ground if not clipped.  Treasured by the ancient Inca civilisation, their fine fleeces were reserved for Incan Royalty. Together with their close relative the Llama they provided clothing, food and fuel an no doubt companionship.  Alpacas have a gentle nature and are easily managed and trained.  Like Llamas, alpacas are found in a range of colours.
 
Vicuna fiber is renowned for its softness, fineness, rarity, and color. The vicuna is a wild animal and is difficult to maintain in captivity. Breeding, birthing, shearing, and medical care would be quite a challenge. The vicuna is also a threatened species which makes the animal and its fiber difficult to obtain as the animal is protected by international laws.
 
Like the Llama the Guanaco is double coated with a coarse guard hair and soft undercoat, which is even finer and thus more highly prized than that of the alpaca , although they carry far less of it. The guanaco's soft wool is only lesser to that of the vicuna , a close relative.
 
Similiar to Llamas, aplacas and vicuñas, guanacos have thicker skin in their necks. Used for fighting in competition for mates, they have thickened to be more protective. Bolivians use the necks of these animals to make shoes, flattening and pounding the skin to be used for the soles. After this long process of condensing and compressing, the skin is becomes very hard.
 
The South American Indians have relied on these animals for food, fibre and shelter for thousands of years. Both the Alpaca and Llama have been imported into Australia now for many years, in fact Australian Breeders are now exporting them to other countries.  Again, Australia finds itself in the forefront of new rural industry development.