Alpacas And South American Camelids: What Are They And Where Do They Come From?

South American camelids are a species from the Andean regions and the hillsides of the Cordillera in South America (Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina) and live at more than 3500 meters above sea level; although over time they have settled in lower areas and more humid climates. For example, the guanaco prefers the southern regions of Argentina and Chile and some alpacas were brought to Australia and New Zealand.

South American camelids are divided into two groups. On the one hand, the domestic species (Uywa in Quechua): llama (Lama lama) and alpaca (Vicugna pacos) and two wild species (Salqa in Quechua): guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and vicuña (Vicugna vicugna); that normally cannot live in captivity.

The people from South American made this distinction between Uywa and Salqa since it has to do with the way they use these animals (Flores Ochoa. 1976, pages 115-134). This same distinction is maintained by herdsmen today.

The uywa is a domesticated animal which also means cattle. Also, it is considered an animal that provides a direct service to man. On the other hand, the Salqa is considered a wild animal because it does not provide a direct service to man; but they are actually domesticated.

Studies suggest that the vicuña and the guanaco were the ancestors of the alpacas and llamas, respectively, and the process of domestication began in the Central Andes of South America 6000 years ago.

In addition, the Inca and the Moche in Peru have continued the domestication process and continue to exploit the alpacas and llamas for their wool and meat.

Another camelid from South America is the Wari; it´s the result of crossbreeding the alpaca with the llama; which mostly occurs between the male llama and the female alpaca.


The alpacas, llamas and vicunas inhabit areas of the Altiplano and the hillsides of the Cordillera of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile; where they live at more than 3500 meters above sea level and where the climate is very dry and the temperatures are very low in winter (with a high probability of frost).

Guanaco inhabits low and dry areas like the fields of southern Argentina and Chile; also known as the Patagonia.

It is estimated that there are about 4 million llamas and 3.5 million alpacas worldwide. Among the countries with the highest number of camelids, Peru has 5 million (it has the highest number of alpacas and vicuña).

On the other hand, Bolivia has the biggest population of llamas (approximately 2 million 300 thousand) and Argentina has the highest number of guanacos; with about 400 thousand.


There are two types of alpacas: Suri and Huacaya (Wakaya). This classification also determines the quality of the alpaca fiber. The fiber of the Suri alpaca is silky, long and shiny; and it is thinner and it has a better price than the Huacaya fiber. In addition, this type adapts better to high and cold places.


The Huacaya alpaca represents 85% of the alpaca population of Peru and its fiber is less silky, shorter and is less shiny than the Suri fiber. The fibers of both these alpacas can be classified as chharqa (Suri) and llamphu (huacaya); The first one is rough and heavy, while the other one is smooth and light (Flores Ochoa 1976).

Regarding the color of the Alpaca fiber, this camelid has about 27 natural colors including white, beige, brown, lead, tobacco, brown, coffee and black.


Interview with Telmo Robalino and Freddy Maldonado of Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders (AVSF).

Other Source:

Flores Ochoa, Jorge A. (1976). “Enqa, Enqaychu, Illa y Khuya Rumi”. Aspectos mágicos religiosos entre los pastores”. Jornal Of Latin America Lore UCLA Latin America Center. Pages 115-134. From “La Tecnología en el Mundo Andino”. Institute of Anthropological Research. National Autonomous University of Mexico. 1985. Mexico DF.

Featured Products