The animal on the cover of Intermediate Perl is an alpaca (Lama pacos). The alpaca is
a member of the South American camelid family, which is closely related to the more
familiar Asian and African camels. South American camelids also include the llama,
the vicuna, and the guanaco. The alpaca is smaller (36 inches at the withers) than a
llama but larger than its other relations. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s approximately
three million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.
The evolution of the wild vicuna into the domestic alpaca began between six and
seven thousand years ago. The specialized breeding of alpacas for fiber production
wasn’t developed until around 500 B.C. The Incas developed the alpaca into the two
distinct fleece types, the Huacaya (pronounced wa-kai-ya) and the less common Suri.
The main difference between the two types of alpacas is the fiber they produce. The
Huacaya fleece has crimp or wave; the Suri fleece is silky and lustrous and has no
crimp. Alpacas are prized for their fleece, which is as soft as cashmere and warmer,
lighter, and stronger than wool. Alpaca fleece comes in more colors than that of any other fiber-producing animal (approximately22 basic colors with manyvariations
The lifespan of the alpaca is about 20 years. Gestation is 11.5 months, producing one
offspring, or cria, every14 to 15 months. The alpaca is a modified ruminant, not
onlyeating less grass than most other animals but converting it to energyveryefficiently.
Unlike true ruminants, they have three compartments in their stomach, not
four, and can thus survive in areas unsuitable to other domesticated animals. Alpacas
are gentle and don’t bite or butt. Even if theydid, without incisors, horns, hoofs, or
claws, they would do little damage.