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La alpaca (in quechua allpaqa, paqu) (Lama pacos)

Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years. In fact, the Moche people of Northern Peru often used Alpaca images in their art. There are no wild alpacas. The closest living species are the wild Vicuña, also native to South America. Along with Camels and Llamas, the Alpaca are classified as Camelids. Larger than the wild Vicuña, the Alpaca is smaller than the other Camelid species.

Of the various Camelid species, the Alpaca and Vicuña are the most valuable fiber-bearing animals: the alpaca because of the quality and quantity of its fiber, and the vicuña because of the softness, fineness and quality of its coat. Alpacas are too small to be used as pack animals. Instead, they were bred exclusively for their fiber and meat.

Alpaca meat was once considered a delicacy by Andean inhabitants. A recent resurgence in Alpaca meat was curtailed by a recent change to Peruvian law granting the Alpaca protected status. Today, it is illegal to slaugher or trade in Alpaca meat. Because of the high price commanded by Alpaca on the growing North American Alpaca market, illegal Alpaca smuggling has become a growing problem.

Alpacas and llamas can (and do) successfully cross-breed. The resulting offspring are called huarizo, which are valued for their unique fleece and often have gentle temperaments and are suitable for pets.

Alpacas are social herd animals and should always be kept with others of their kind, or at the very least with other camelids. They are gentle, elegant, inquisitive, intelligent and observant. As they are a prey animal, they are cautious and nervous if they feel threatened. They like having their own space and may not like an unfamiliar alpaca or human getting close, especially from behind. They warn the herd about intruders by making sharp, noisy inhalations that sound like a high pitch burro bray. The herd may attack smaller predators with their front feet, and can spit and kick. Due to the soft pads on their feet, the impact of a kick is not as dangerous as those of hoofed animals, yet they still can give quite a bruise, and the pointed nails can inflict cuts.


Not all alpacas spit, but all are capable. "Spit" is somewhat euphemistic. While occasionally the projectile contains only air and a little saliva, they also commonly bring up acidic stomach contents (generally a green grassy mix) and project it onto its chosen target. Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas, but an alpaca will occasionally spit at humans, for example taking away food.

For alpacas, spitting results in what is called "sour mouth." Sour mouth is characterized by a loose-hanging lower lip and a gaping mouth. This is caused by the stomach acids and unpleasant taste of the contents as they pass out of the mouth.

Some alpacas will spit when looked at, others will never spit — their personalities are very individualized and there is no hard and fast rule in terms of social behavior, although there is often a group leader, and a group trailer/runt that is picked on by others.

Alpacas at a farm. The two cria are playing with a piece of bark.
Once they know their owners and feel confident around them, they may allow their backs and necks to be touched. They do not like being grabbed . Once socialized well, some alpacas tolerate being stroked or petted anywhere on their bodies, although many do not like their feet, lower legs, and especially their abdomen touched or handled. If an owner needs to catch an alpaca, the neck offers a good handle — holding the neck firmly between the arms is the best way to restrain the animal. Holding the neck from the rear with the animal's head under one's arm is also very effective.

To help alpacas control their internal parasites they have a communal dung pile, where they do not graze. Generally, males have much tidier, and fewer dung piles than females who tend to stand in a line and all go at once. One female approaches the dung pile and begins to urinate and/or defecate, and the rest of the herd often follows.

Because of their preference to using a dung pile, some alpacas have been successfully house-trained.

Individuals vary, but Alpacas generally make a humming sound. Hums are often comfort noises, letting the other alpacas know they are present and content. However, humming can take on many inflections and meanings, from a high-pitched, almost desperate, squealing, "MMMM!" or frantic question, "mmMMM!" when a mother is separated from her offspring (called a "cria,") to a questioning "Mmm?" when they are curious.

Alpacas also make other sounds as well as humming. In danger, they make a high-pitched, shrieking whine. Some breeds are known to make a "wark" noise when excited, and they stand proud with their tails sticking out and their ears in a very alert position. Strange dogs — and even cats — can trigger this reaction. To signal friendly and/or submissive behavior, alpacas "cluck," or "click" a sound possibly generated by suction on the soft palate, or possibly somehow in the nasal cavity. This is often accompanied by a flipping up of the tail over the back.

When males fight they also scream, a warbling bird-like cry, presumably intended to terrify the opponent. Fighting is to determine dominance, and therefore the right to mate the females in the herd, and it is triggered by testosterone. This is why males are often kept in separate paddocks — when two dominant males get together violent fights often occur. When males must be pastured together, it is wise to trim down the large fang-like teeth used in fights, called "fighting teeth". Although alpacas may try to bite each other they only have a bottom row of teeth, so damage is usually minimal. When fighting they will often tangle others necks and attempt to push each other around, but they settle down after a week and agree to a winner and dominant male.

Related Links

www.allalpacaweb.com

www.alpacav.com

www.alpacafiestaperu.com

www.prompex.gob.pe

www.alpakinasac.com

www.perustores.com

www.aia.org.pe

 

 

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