Alpacas are members of the Camelid Family. Camelids originated in North America 40-50 million years ago. Their migration to Asia and Northern Africa led to the evolution of camels, while those migrating to South America became descendents of the llama and alpaca species.
By approximately 1700 BC, the native peoples reliance on hunting had successfully shifted to an economy based on herding. Selective breeding of the camelids produced the two domesticated species we know today as the llama and alpaca. While the larger llama was used as a pack animal and meat source, the smaller alpaca was valued and bred specifically for their soft, luxurious fiber.
During the rule of the Incan Empire the broadest distribution of alpacas occurred. The Incans recognized the value of the alpaca¹s fiber as well as its ability to produce a wide spectrum of fleece colors. They developed their herds to produce the finest, most colorful and luxurious fibers, so prized and valuable that it was often reserved for royalty, priests, and high-ranking officers.
With the Spanish invasion of 1532 came the introduction of European breeds of livestock, hunting, and new diseases that brought the alpaca to near extinction. Some say as much as 90% of the world alpaca population was eliminated. However, the importance of the alpaca to the Andean culture contributed to the survival of the alpaca. Today they are the primary source of wealth of the indigenous people of the Andes.
Legal exportation of alpacas from South America was not permitted until the 1980¹s and they were first imported to the United States in 1984. Since then, North American herds have grown substantially to over 60,000 head. A strong national organization, the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association
(AOBA) was formed, as well as a North American fiber coop and a national registry. Over 4000 farmers across the states enjoy the alpaca lifestyle today.