Alpaca Vicugna pacos
mountains and high plains
South America (central and southern Andes, from Peru to northern Chile)
Descendants of vicuñas (their wild cousins), alpacas are the smallest domestic camelids. They are bred for their high-quality wool, which is used to produce warm, silky fabrics. Alpacas vary in colour from white to black, via brown or grey. White fleeces are in the highest demand because they can be dyed.
Archaeological digs have shown that alpacas were already domesticated almost 5,000 years ago by a race of hunter-gatherers. From the 15th to 16th centuries, the Incas took care to avoid any cross-breeding of alpagas and llamas as well as undertaking selective breeding of animals of pure colour. But this progressive style of management came to an end with the 16th-century Spanish invasion.
This species is not endangered, but a high degree of cross-breeding with llamas, with which it shares pastures, as well as the high demand for white wool, have resulted in a loss of genetic diversity.