TED Case Studies
Number 667, 2002
by Mariana Vega

The Alpaca: A South American Camelid

General Information
Legal Cluster
Bio-Geographic Cluster
Trade Cluster
Environment Cluster
Other Clusters



I. Identification

1. The Issue

What is the cultural and ethnical significance of the Alpaca in Peru and the Andean region? This research examines the impact Alpaca breeding in other countries will have on the region's economy and environment. It will address the animal's presence in the region, its historical ties with the Inca Empire and the Alpaca's continuous importance in modern day Peru. It will also analyze the Alpaca fiber industry, the demand for Alpaca fiber and its by-products in the international market and the difficulties Peru could face if Alpaca fiber industries are developed elsewhere. Additionally, it will deal with the importance of protecting the Andean region's Alpaca population with respect to Alpaca populations being groomed in other countries.

2. Description

The Alpaca - The Alpaca is a member of the South American camelid family, which includes the Llama, the Vicuna and the Guanaco. Among its more distant relatives are the African Dromedary camel and the Asian Bactrian camel. It is believed that the ancestors of the Alpacas migrated from the North American Southwest to the Andean region more than 50 million years ago. While they became extinct in the north, in the south the Alpaca's wild ancestors were domesticated by the Indian populations of the region and evolved - approximately 7,000 years ago - into what we know today as Alpacas and Llamas. The Vicuna and Guanaco are considered to be of the same biological species as the Alpaca and Llama. DNA tests performed by experts indicate that the Alpaca is the result of selective breeding of Vicuna stock and that the Llama is a direct descendant of the Guanaco.

There are approximately 3.5 million Alpacas in the world today. The largest population of these animals - 3 million - lives in Peru at 10,000 feet above sea level. With regards to the other Andean countries, reports indicate that Bolivia has approximately 500,000 Alpacas while Chile and Argentina have a bit over 50,000 Alpacas between them.

The Alpacas tolerate harsh climatic conditions that include temperature variations of more than forty degrees in a single day. Alpacas have a high resistance and can go without food or water for days. It is a single-coated animal that has an average weight of 100 to 175 pounds (45 to 80 kilos) and an average height of 36 inches at the withers (92 centimeters). They have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years and a gestation period of 335 days. Female Alpacas become reproductive at the age of three and their annual gestation cycle allows them to have six or seven "crias" (offspring). However, the high mortality rate in these types of animals reduces the number of possible offspring to three or four.

There are two types of Alpaca: the Huacaya and the Suri Alpaca. The Huacaya, totaling perhaps 90 percent of the existing world population, is the most common and produces a fleece that has a crimp or wavy quality. The Suri produces a more lustrous fine fiber that has no crimp. The Alpaca can be found in 22 natural colors. The Suri - if its a pure breed, that is, not mixed with a Huacaya - is white in color. The Huacaya, on the other hand, comes in a great variety of black, grey, brown, beige, white colors and shades.

There are seven basic grades of Alpaca fiber and each grade of Alpaca has a specific use. The finest, and most thought after, is "baby" Alpaca. It ranges from 20 to 22 microns. Arequipa - the Alpaca Capital of Peru - produces a superfine fiber that ranges from 25 to 26.5 microns. A female Alpaca can yield five pounds (2.3 kilograms) of fiber each year, while a male can yield more than eight pounds (3.6 kilograms). The Alpaca is shorn once a year, usually in the Spring. Because of the high altitudes of the Alpaca's natural habitat, its fiber has extremely high thermal capacity and durability.


Alpaca fiber - considered a luxury fiber - usually rivals the popularity of such fine fibers as cashmere and pashmina among top designers around the world as its texture is much stronger than merino sheep wool and its softness and silkiness is superior to that of angora and cashmere wools.

The Inca Culture - The Inca Empire had its origins in 1100 A.C. in the Cuzco Valley where its rulers settled and established one of the most prominent civilizations of the Americas. By 1525 the Inca Empire had exerted its influence and power in the region and covered an area that included present-day southern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the northern regions of Chile and Argentina. The empire covered an area of 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) from north to south and 805 kilometers (500 miles) from east to west.

The Alpaca - and the Llama - were treasured animals for the Inca civilization and an integral part of everyday life in the Andean region. The animals were used for garments, fertilizer, fuel, hides and meat as well as a means of transportation (pack animal to transport goods) and communication (to transport messages). The Incas also domesticated other animals: the dog as a hunting companion and the the duck and the guinea pig which were bred for food.

Agriculture, textiles, metallurgy and pottery were the most important economic activities of the Inca empire. The quality and design of textiles created and developed by the Incas were considered to be the finest in the Americas. The wool of the Alpaca and the Vicuna was used alongside cotton fiber to make cloaks & robes (mainly used by royalty), rugs, hangings and wall tapestries for palaces and temples, giving them a silk-like shine and colors that were not yet known in Europe. Their traditional clothing attire was a long robe without sleeves that was usually adorned with gold, precious stones and feathers.

The processing of Alpaca wool - like other fibers developed by the Inca civilization - was an integral part of everyday life in the empire. Once the alpacas were sheared by the shepards, the fleece was taken to the royal warehouses where it was processed into wool. It remained stored there until it could be distributed according to each family's needs. While the Inca men took care of the processing of the wool, Inca women were assigned the tasks of spinning and weaving. Royal administrators, especially designated by the Inca king, were in charge of supervising the distribution of work and the quality of work being performed. With the exception of those that were ill or had some sort of impediment, everyone in the empire - male and female - was involved in the processing of the wool and had to work within the program established by the governing authorities.

Textiles were very important to the Inca culture. Apart from being used for clothing, textiles had religious and social significance. A piece of textile or clothing was considered to be the most prestigious gift. Soldiers, religious representatives and citizens that had distinguished themselves by serving the empire were given clothing as a sign of appreciation. The Incas also considered clothing to have "magical" powers - that if you stole and wore your enemy's clothing you could overpower or destroy him. The Alpaca's finest fiber - like that of the Vicuna - was considered of such value that it was only used by Inca royalty.

Fine fibers and textiles were to the Incas what gold was to the Spaniards. They considered the Alpaca as a source of wealth and used it as a legal tender or "money". During diplomatic or military negotiations, clothing and textiles were exchanged. The dead were buried in their finest clothing and when making offerings to the gods, the Incas would burn clothing and textiles to show their loyalty. Textiles with colored feathers were reserved for the soldiers, while robes made with gold and silver thread were given to young boys of noble lineage during their manhood iniciation ceremony.

The Peruvian Alpaca Industry Today -

According to the Centro Peruano de Estudios Sociales - CEPES (the Peruvian Center for Social Studies), the Alpaca is the key component to the economy of over 65,000 rural families in the Andean region of Peru. These families are mainly "Pastores Alpaqueros" (Indian herders/breeders) who live in remote areas under extreme poverty conditions. These herders/breeders practice a traditional breeding system that has been passed on from father to son and share the same native environment as the animlas they herd. The women, who still maintain the spinning and weaving traditions of their ancestors, make a variety of items (rugs, mats, sweaters, gloves, socks, hats, belts, jackets, etc.) that are either worn by their families or sold at local markets.

The indians in the Andean region also consume the Alpaca's meat and it is the main source of protein in their daily diets. Alpaca meat is not only rich in proteins, but also has the lowest level of cholesterol of any meat - only 0.16%.

Once the Indian herders/breeders obtain what they need from the Alpacas they own (fleece for clothing and meat for food), they travel to local trade fairs to meet with "Alcanzadores" (Pursuers) who buy the Alpaca fleece - sometimes for money, other times for essential items such as: salt, sugar, medicine, candles, matches, etc. The pursuers, in turn, take the Alpaca fleece they have collected to the "Rescatistas" (Agents) who themselves purchase the fleece on behalf of the large fiber producers located in cities such as Arequipa. Once the fleece is properly processed it is either sold as such or turned into fine fiber, textiles and a great variety of pieces of clothing and accessories.

Peru's alpaca fiber/textile/clothing manufacturing industry is somewhat uneven and atomized. It includes over 500 exporting companies, the majority of which are small family-owned businesses that do not have the technology or manpower necessary to remain competitive in the Alpaca market - their production is limited and they mainly make enough profit to survive. The exception are 15 well-established manufacturing companies that have the technological backing - mostly through joint-ventures with foreign investors - which allows them to process Alpaca fiber (mostly sold to foreign clients) and develop their own textile/clothing lines to sell locally and abroad.

Peru is the main producer and exporter of alpaca fiber/fleece in the world. The International Alpaca Association (the Asociacion Internacional de la Alpaca/AIA), located in Arequipa Peru, reports that the country produces 4,000 tons of alpaca fiber annually. Below is a table that compares Peru's Alpaca fiber/fleece production to that of other countries that produce similar fine hair fibers (Table 1):

Table 1: Major Fine Hair Fiber Producers

4,000 tons
5,000 tons
8,500 tons
600 tons
3 tons
South Africa-USA (Texas)-Turkey
22,000 tons
New Zealand-Austraila-South Africa
1,851,000 tons

Source: International Alpaca Association (IAA); Arequipa, Peru

According to the International Trade Center UNCTAD/WTO database Peru exported USD $32 million of fine animal hair fiber (carded or combed) during 1999. These export statistics - which may include wool and other fine hair fibers such as llama, vicuna, etc. - have China, Italy and Great Britain as the three top export markets.

Peruvian industry sources indicate that Italy is the most prominent market for alpaca fiber/fleece at present, but that China is a growing market. Italy is already manufacturing top quality alpaca clothing/accessories items that are re-exported to other countries.

With respect to alpaca by-products (textiles, clothing, accessories), Peru exported almost USD $6.7 million to the United States in 2000 - 40 percent of its total production, thus making the United States the top market for alpaca textiles, clothing and accessories. It should be noted that no more than 20 Peruvian companies are responsible for 80 percent of alpaca by-products exports to the United States - as has been mentioned before, the great majority of Peruvian alpaca by-product companies are small, family-owned businesses that have limited production capacity.

International Interest: Effects and Possible Consequences & Results-

At present the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have the most prominent Alpaca populations outside of the Andean Region and can be considered the most recent key importers of this animal. The United States and Australia have 30,000 animals each, while the United Kingdom has a bit over 3,000. Both the U.S. and Australian breeder societies closed their pedigree lists about five years ago in order to discourage further entry of Alpacas into their respective countries and thus provide their Alpaca populations an opportunity to grow and develop. The goal of these three breeding countries is to develop their own Alpaca populations for export, as well as establish their own fiber/fleece industry in the future. Apart from these three countries, New Zealand is considered to have the fourth largest population of Alpacas outside South America while European countries such as Italy, France and Switzerland have also demonstrated an interest in having their own Alpaca populations.

Between 1931 and 1993 exportation of these animals was banned by Peru in order to protect what it considered part of its national heritage and a prominent resource. In 1993 the Peruvian government determined that the Alpaca population had reached an optimal level and authorized the exportation of Alpacas. Authorized herds were exported to the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and other countries. A herd of 400 Alpacas was even exported to Ecuador in order to revitalize this country's diminishing Alpaca population.

In 1996, the government of Peru again began to limit the exportation of Alpacas to other countries fearing that its population's gene pool could be debilitated and that the growth of Alpaca populations in other parts of the world could challenge the country's Alpaca fiber/fleece industry in the future. The Peruvian government established a quota that allowed no more than 1,700 Alpacas to be exported each year. This decree, which was encouraged by CONACS (the National Council of South American Camelids), allowed the agricultural minister to determine how many domesticated camelids (the Alpaca and the Llama) - by species, race and color - could be exported each year. This measure also established quarantine fees and export tariff fees that were aimed at covering administrative costs and developing a fund to help small breeders in the Altiplano.

Additionally, CONACS manages the Domestic Camelids' Genetic Registry Program which intends to achieve species purity through genetic evaluation. In 1997, the program had evaluated more than 40 percent of Peru's Alpaca population. It was expected that the program would complete its task of evaluating the country's entire population by 2002.

Despite its efforts to maintain a systematic control with respect to the exportation of Alpacas, high demand for these animals in the international market - they can sell for USD $10,000 to USD $30,000 each - has encouraged the irresponsible and "unauthorized" exportation of Alpacas in the last few years. It should be noted that of the $10,000 to $30,000 that is earned by Alpaca exporters for each animal sold, Andean breeders/herders receive no more than $500.

According to the Comision Nacional de Camelidos Sudamericanos - CONACS (National Commission of South American Camelids) over 7,000 Alpacas were exported between 1992 and 2000 through authorized channels. The number of Alpacas exported by "unauthorized" means is not known.

Table 2: Alpaca Exports (1992-2000)


ALPACA EXPORTS: 1992 - 2000
United States

Source: CONACS, SENASA; Lima, Peru

The uncontrolled level of exportation as well as the improper means used to export breeding stock has begun to threaten the species' genetic strength. Alpacas have a reproduction rate of one percent per year. Reports indicate that despite the exportation controls established by the government, Peru has been exporting more than one percent of these animals since 1993.

Young Alpacas - in particular young males or studs - are the most thought after by international breeders because of their reproductive and breeding capabilities, but they are also small in number and are the ones that guarantee the species' genetic strength. A decrease of young male alpacas can result in Peru's Alpaca population loosing its genetic purity and thus the quality and fineness of its fiber. Certain reports indicate that Andean herders/breeders have begun to mate Alpacas and Llamas to maintain population growth and this has resulted in the fleece becoming thicker and harsher. According to some experts, Peru currently has about 100,000 genetically worthy Alpacas with which it can strengthen and revitalize its population.

Apart from protecting the genetic strength and purity of the species, Peruvian authorities are also concerned with the Alpaca's well-being, including: improving its nutrition, decreasing its mortality rate and establishing programs that will administer the amount of fleece provided by each animal as well as organizing herders and breeders. Through a program called Direct Acquistion of Alpaca Fleece, Peruvian authorities are trying to generate employment for herders and breeders in rural areas that suffer from extreme poverty. The program buys Alpaca fleece directly from herders and breeders through 43 collection centers spread throughout 13 provinces of Peru.

Family-owned businesses, together with the spinners, weavers, "Rescatistas", "Alcanzadores" and "Pastores Alpaqueros" depend on the Alpaca for their survival and well-being. They are the ones to profit less from the increasing interest in Alpacas and Alpaca fleece/fiber in the international market and perhaps the ones to be hurt most if the Alpaca population were to suffer any changes and demand for its fleece were to decrease in the future. The economic and development problems already faced by the Indians of this region at present could be futher intensified.

Peru's Alpaca fiber/textile/clothing manufacturers, who are the major suppliers of Alpaca fiber in the world today, could see their growing and developing industry deteriorate as a result of other Alpaca fiber suppliers appearing in the international market. They would have to face decreasing prices and decreasing demand for Peruvian Alpaca fiber as they could not compete with more technologically and industrially developed Alpaca fiber suppliers in other parts of the world. If Peru's Alpaca population is affected in any way, its fleece would loose the quality it has become known for internationally and this would further hamper the country's Alpaca industry. Peruvian Alpaca fleece would cease to be considered a "luxury" fiber.

The Alpaca 's Environment - The weakening of the camelid population in the Andean region of Peru could also be detrimental to the equilibrium of the region's animal ecosystem. These camelids, in particular Llamas and Alpacas, consume the pastures that commonly grow in the highlands of the country's Andean region and by doing so they prevent bovine species in the area from developing foot and mouth disease. Reports indicate that even though Llamas and alpacas are prone to the same illnesses as other rumiants, they are inmune to this illness in particular.

Furthermore, these pastures - which serve as the key source of food and substenance for Peruvian camelids and other animals that are herded in the highlands - are also wearing down do to a variety of natural and man-caused circumstances, among them:

If Peru wants to preserve this valuable resource, it will have to take measures to protect the alpacas' habitat from suffering and deteriorating.

3. Related Cases

1) Protect the Dromedary , January, 1998
2) The Introduction of Sheep into Bolivia's Camelid Herding Industry, June, 1997
3) Globalization of the Cashmere Industry in Mongolia , January 2001
4) Scotland & China Cashmere Trade , May 1996
5) Mexico Parrot Trade, June 1992
6) The Patanal and Exports of Animal Products, June 1995

4. Author and Date:


II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: Disagreement and In-Progress

There are currently no legal issues that have been brought to the WTO. However, the Andean Region Countries - Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru - are waiting for approval on the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDE) which would renew the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) until 2006. This act, which seeks to eradicate the drug industry in the region by supporting and encouraging the development of other local industries, will specifically provide duty and quota free treatment to apparel made or knit-to-shape in the ATPA region from fabrics in which the chief weight is from llama or alpaca as well as to fabrics deemed to be in short supply under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

6. Forum and Scope: Andean countries and Regional

7. Decision Breadth: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru

8. Legal Standing: The Andean Region countries - in this case, Peru - are all members of the WTO. The Uruguay Round Negotiating areas that could affect these countries in relation to the Alpaca, its fibers and by-products are:

The Agreement on Textiles and Clothing which seeks to integrate the textile and clothing sector - mainly subject to bilateral quotas - into GATT. The agreement intends to phase out import quotas currently applied to tops & yarns, fabrics, made-up textiles, products and clothing by 2005 as well as guarantee that all countries abide by GATT rules and thus improve market access, apply fair and equitable trading conditions & avoid discrimination against imports. The elimination of import quotas could prove beneficial for Peruvian Alpaca fibers and by-product manufacturers as it would provide these products with better entry conditions into foreign markets. At present, Peruvian Alpaca fibers and by-products must also comply with high import tariffs when entering the U.S. and European markets.

General Agreement on Trade in Services: Under this agreement, industrial design can be protected under agreement for ten years. Owners of protected designs would be able to prevent the manufacture, sale or importation of articles bearing or embodying a design that is a copy of the protected design. If implemented, this agreement could prove beneficial to Peru in the future as it can provide a venue for the country to protect Peruvian Alpaca textile designs - mainly those with Inca motifs - from being reproduced by other international Alpaca fiber manufacturers.

Committee on Trade & Environment (CTE): Its objective is to achieve sustainable development and protect and preserve the environment. This committee could be key to Peru with respect to protecting the Alpaca population from deteriorating and loosing genetic strength as a result of improper trade as well as in protecting the region's proper development.

Another forum in which Peru could present its case - from a cultural aspect - is UNESCO. According to UNESCO culture is "the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human". This organization protects Intangible Cultural Heritage. This involves all forms of traditional and popular or folk culture as well as collective works originating in a given community and based on tradition. These creations, which are transmitted orally or by gesture and are modified over a period of time through process of collective recreation, include oral traditions, customs, languages, music, dance, rituals, festivities, traditional medicine & pharmacopeia, the culinary arts and all kinds of special skills connected with the material aspects of culture, such as tools and the habitat. Peruvian Alpaca fibers, textiles and designs have been part of the Andean Region for centuries and an integral part of its peoples' history and culture. UNESCO states "for many populations, the intangible heritage is the vital source of an identity that is deeply rooted in history". In other words, if the production of Alpaca fibers and textiles were to disappear because of foreign competition, the people of this region would loose part of their history and heritage.

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: South America

b. Geographic Site: Western South America

c. Geographic Impact: Peru - the country's Alpaca population mainly concentrates in the central and southern mountainous regions of the country, in the provinces of Puno, Cuzco, Arequipa, Huancavelica and Ayacucho.

10. Sub-National Factors: NO

11. Type of Habitat: Cool; mountainous region with grazing areas located at 10,00 feet above sea level. Harsh climatic conditions that include temperature variations of more than forty degrees in a single day.

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: Import Standard

The Alpaca - Despite the set quota - 1,700 animals per year - and regulatory fees, Peru's government has continued to have difficulty in deterring the "unauthorized" exportation of these animals.

Alpaca Fiber/By-Products - At present, Peru is negotiating to have apparel and fabrics made of Alpaca, Llama and Vicuna included in the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDE) and thus obtain duty and quota free treatment when these products enter the United States. If successful, Peruvian apparel and fabrics made of Alpaca, Llama or Vicuna imported into the United States will no longer have to comply with the 22% duty they now pay. The inclusion of this new measure would be similar to the apparel duty and quota free treatment that is currently part of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA). The ATPDE, which renews the expiring Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) through 2006 and has Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador as beneficiaries, is expected to be approved by Congress in the spring of 2002.

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: Direct

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: YES - Alpaca

b. Indirectly Related to Product: YES - Wool

c. Not Related to Product: NO

d. Related to Process: YES - Species Loss Land

15. Trade Product Identification: Alpaca, alpaca fibers/fleece and by-products.

16. Economic Data

17. Impact of Trade Restriction: LOW

18. Industry Sector: TEXTILES

19. Exporters and Importers: PERU AND MANY

Exporter(s): Peru has the largest Alpaca population in the world and is the leading producer/exporter of Alpaca fleece/fiber/textiles - it produces 4,000 tons of alpaca fiber annually. The table below illustrates Peru's latest exporting figures:



Fine Animal Hair


By-Products (textiles, clothing, accessories)
Total: $32 million
Total: $15 million


Importer(s): China (41%), Italy (30%) and Great Britain (12%) are the three leading importers of alpaca fiber and fleece.

The United States is the leading importer of alpaca by-products (textiles, clothing, accessories). In 2000, it imported $6.7 million, 40% of Peru's total annual production.

Other foreign markets that have indicated an interest in alpaca fiber/fleece, as well as alpaca by-products are: Japan, Brazil and Chile.

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type: Species Loss Land

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Name: Camelid

Type: Alpaca

Diversity: There are two types of Alpaca: the Huacaya and the Suri. Peru's Alpaca population is 93 percent Huacaya and 7 percent Suri.

22. Resource Impact and Effect: LOW AND 10-20 YEARS

23. Urgency and Lifetime: LOW AND 20 YEARS

24. Substitutes: Synthetic fibers

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture: YES

Please see Section 2, under "The Inca Culture"

26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO

27. Rights: NO

28. Relevant Literature

Garcia-Gamero, Monica, "Peru Begins to Regulate Camelid Exports", The Alpaca Registry Journal - Volume II, Number 1, Winter-Spring 1997.

Jones, Jeffrey, "Spits and Pieces", Australian Farm Journal, October 2000.

Valeriani, Rossana, "Fibras del Peru para el Mundo - Fibra de Alpaca", 1998; (Spanish language).

Veltjens, Nick, "The Globalisation of Alpacas", Alpacas Australia Magazine, Issue 18, 1997

Industry Trade and Technology Review - Office of Industries, U.S. International Trade Commission, March 2001.

La Revista Agraria - Number 31 "Apuesta por la Sierra", December 2001(Spanish language).



Oficina de Informacion Agraria, Ministerio de Agricultura del Peru - www.minag.gob.pe

International Alpaca Association (IAA) - www.aia.org.pe

International Trade Center - UNCTAD/WTO - www.intracen.org

Los Incas - www.monografias.com; (Spanish language).

Alpacas of Canada - www.alpacas.ab.ca/enc.htm

Veltjens, Nick, "The Alpaca Industry - The Future", 1996 - www.hotkey.net.au/~alpaca/index.html

"Andean Region to Get Apparel Benefits", Congressional Activities - Business Alert - U.S., TDCtrade.com, Issue 20, 2001. www.tdctrade.com


#1 - #7: All pictures taken by Mariana Vega during a visit to the Dafy Alpaca Farm (Butler, Maryland) in April 2002.

#8: Map of Peru - Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection; University of Texas at Austin; www.lib.utexas.edu/maps.html