Alpacas are members of the camelid family which includes the camel, llama, alpaca, guanaco and vicuna.
Alpacas were farmed initially by the South American Incas for more than 3,000 years before the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. The Incas regarded Alpaca as the "Fibre of the Gods", and perhaps it will be the "Fibre of the Future".
After the Spanish invasion valuable alpaca grazing land was taken over for sheep and cattle and alpaca farming was restricted to the higher Antiplano, an area unsuitable for either sheep or cattle.
Alpacas are farmed for their lustrous fleece which is shorn annually. Alpaca fleece is woven into expensive suiting and garments highly prized by fashion houses in Italy, France, Germany and in recent years Asian countries Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Peru and Chile are the two biggest producers of alpaca fibre but as most (80%) of the farming is carried out by small communities, processing and animal breeding is left largely to chance.