A domesticated member of the South American camelid family, the Alpaca (Lama pacos) numbers 3 million head worldwide. Around 80% are found in the Andes, but sizeable herds (totalling around 200 000 animals) have been established in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Shorn annually, an Alpaca produces about 3 kg of fibre.
Alpaca fibre is partly hollow, from 20 to 70 microns in diameter and comes in 22 natural colours. It is light, stronger than sheep’s wool, and provides excellent insulation. Huacayo alpacas produce soft, dense, short fibres, while the fleece of the rarer suri is lustrous, silky and straight. Alpaca blends well with wool, mohair and silk.
Annual output of Alpaca wool in Peru, the main producer, is estmated at around 6 500 tonnes. Around 80% is shipped as fleece to textile makers (chiefly in China, Germany and Italy), earning export income of around $50 million a year.
Source: FAO 2009