Originally descended from Vicuna
The alpaca is a member of the camelid family. They were descended from vicuna, domesticated some 6000 years ago by ancient tribes of the Andean highlands of Peru, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. They were likely the first domesticated animal in the world. The native home of alpacas can be found on the flat elevations of the Andes mountains between 11,000 and 16,000 feet above sea level.
Raised for fiber and meat
These gentle animals were not raised as pack animals, like their cousin the llama. They are much smaller than llamas and specifically bred in South America for their fiber and meat. Alpaca fiber is used for woven and knitted items like socks, scarves, and blankets. It produces an extremely soft and hypoallergenic fabric that is considered highly desirable and was once referred to as the "fiber of the Gods."
The South American tribes that domesticated and improved the alpaca for thousands of years were assimilated into the Incan society, and Incans thought alpacas to be the number one gift of the Gods to mankind. Only royalty were allowed to wear the highest grade alpaca fiber clothing and fiber was stored in guarded vaults.
Driven to brink of extinction by Spanish Conquistadors
In the early 1500’s, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in South America and drove alpacas to the brink of extinction. Since alpacas provided food, clothing and fuel for the Incas, the Spaniards reasoned that they could control the Indians by depriving them of their alpacas. So they slaughtered the alpacas by the millions. Peruvian historians estimate that as many as 90% of the entire world’s population of alpacas were killed. Fortunately, the Quechuas, Aymaras and Incas outsmarted the Spaniards by hiding some of their alpacas. They took them to a remote region of Peru called the Altiplano, a high mountain desert that ranges from 10,000-16,000 feet above sea-level.
Modern day terrorists target alpacas
In the 20th century, Peruvian terrorists wreaked more havoc on the alpaca herds by killing 50% of all animals from 1967-1992. Consequently, the governments of Peru, Chile and Bolivia lowered their previous restrictions and allowed alpacas to be exported to help the rural farms economically and to salvage some of the animals. They were exported to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, U.S., England and Israel.
Importation and Registry in North America
The first alpacas were imported into North America in 1984. In 1988 the Alpaca Registry (ARI) was created as a division of the International Llama Registry. Almost every alpaca born in North America is now registered to guarantee its parentage with DNA verification. When a baby is born, its owner sends in a blood sample to be DNA tested. Once its parentage is verified, the Alpaca Registry issues a pedigree certificate to the owner. No animal can be shown without proof of registration and most breeders will only purchase registered alpacas. In 1998, ARI closed the registry for imported alpacas in order to preserve the value of the existing American herd.