Alpacas are one of the camelid species, closely related to the llama. There are four species of South American camelid: Llamas (Lama glama) and Alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are domesticated and Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) and Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) remain wild and are protected species.
All four are found mainly in Peru in the Andes, with smaller numbers in Chile and Bolivia. Alpacas were domesticated from the wild vicuna into alpaca six to seven thousand years ago. The Incas were very successful in further refining the alpaca for better fibre quality. When the Spanish invaded Peru in 1532, they destroyed the breeding programmes and the alpacas were decimated in numbers and quality in favour of sheep.
There are now thought to be about 3.5 million alpacas in South America and they are now being successfully bred in North America, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, China and throughout Europe.
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