Alpacas, which resemble small llamas, are a domesticated species of South American cemelid. There are two different breeds of alpaca, the Huacaya and Suri. Kept in herds, they graze on the level heights of the Andes and Southern Peru, Ecuador, Northern Chile and western Bolivia. Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years, hence there are no known “wild” alpacas.
Alpacas are bred specifically for their fibre. The Alpaca fibres are used for making woven and knitted items, similar to wool. Naturally, the fibres come in more than 50 colors, 16 classified in the United States.
An adult Alpaca is generally 32-39 inches in height at their shoulders and typically weigh 100-185 pounds. Alpacas are too smal to be used as pack animals, so instead, they are bred exclusively for their meat and their fibres. Alpaca meat was once considered to be a delicacy to the Andean inhabitants. Due to the high price of Alpacas on the North American Alpaca market, the illegal smuggeling of Alpacas has become a larger problem.
Social animals, Alpacas her in family groups that consist of a territorial alpha male, females and their young. As other animals, Alpacas will warn their herd of intruders by making sharp and noisy, high pitched sounds. The herd will attack smaller predators with their front feet and will kick and spit. Not all Alpacas spit, but they are all capable of doing so. Their “spit” occasionally contains only air and a little bit of saliva. Sometime they will bring up acidic stomach contents and project it onto their target. Typically, Alapcas will only spit on other alpacs, but they will spit on humans.
Alpacas can be successfully house-trained, as they will use the same location to urinate and defecate. Due to this behaviour, the spread of internal parasites is limited. As they are grazers, by the time they will graze to the area they previously used for a “dung pile,” the parasites will have died off.
Alpacas have very sensitive, three chambered stomachs, and can have ulcers if stressed. Their diets consists of hay or grass, and need to eat around 1 to 2% of their body weight per day. Although they do not need to eat a lot, they do like to chew on almost anything. Alpacas will eat plants along with grass and hay, but there are many plants that are poisonous to the Alpaca.
Female Alpacas will usually conceive after one breeding. The gestation period is typically 11.5 months, resulting in one offspring (also called Cria). It is rare for two offsprings (twins) to be born, occurs about once in every 1000 deliveries. When born, Cria generally weigh between 15 and 20 pounds and can stand from anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour and a half after birth. Crias are typically weaned, through human intervention, around 6 months after they are born. Depending on their size and maturity, they can be weaned earlier or later.