Alpacas

The alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a close relative of the fellow South American llama (same family, Camelidae, literally ‘the camel family in Latin’). The alpaca is much smaller than the llama, coming in at a bit over 100 pounds and under four feet tall at adulthood, whereas a llama may weigh as much as 400 pounds and be well over 700 feet tall.

Depending on your place of residence, perhaps you’ve seen ads late at night that extoll the glories of alpaca farming. According to these ads, the ‘alpaca lifestyle’ is an easy and extremely profitable one that beats the alpaca-fiber-pants off the suckers who actually work for a living. However, like most investment opportunities involving hoofed South American animals, raising alpacas may not be the cash machine that creepy on-camera testimonials claim it is. A quick internet search of the term ‘alpaca scam’ reveals all manner of aspersion cast upon the American alpaca industrial complex, from the obvious (there’s really not much of a market for alpaca wool in the US) to the conspiratorial (that it’s all a massive pyramid scheme that eventually has to collapse).

Might not be for you…if you like working for a living. Loser.

Animal Review does not take an official position on the ‘alpaca lifestyle’ and holds no positions in any alpaca stocks.

If you’re not a watcher of early-morning TV and like most people have no idea what all this is about, alpacas and human beings have coexisted for centuries. In South America (where they’re well-suited to a frigid, high-altitude lifestyle in the Andes Mountains), alpacas have been used as beasts of burden, for meat, and, most notably, for their fine fiber, which is considered much finer than llama fiber by people who pay attention to this kind of thing.

Phenotypically, an alpaca looks like a weird sheep/horse/goat mix, and indeed many leading researchers believe that this is precisely whence they originated well over 20,000 years ago, somewhere on the Eurasian steppes. Following a horrifying series of mating errors between sheep, a horse, and some goats, the newly-minted alpaca hopped a land bridge to South America, where it was immediately beloved for its agreeably stupid disposition, which, again, squares well with the notion that they are the products of interspecies breeding that should never have occurred.

Weirded out yet?

Long story short, alpacas became big in the Incan Empire, where wealth was in part demonstrated by the number of alpacas one owned. And here’s where the dumb alpaca has a lot to answer for: only fourteen large animals have been ever been successfully domesticated: sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses, Arabian camels, Bactrian camels, llamas and alpacas, donkeys, reindeers, water buffalos, yaks, Bali cattle, and Mithans (a type of ox).*

Of these, llamas and alpacas are the only New World domesticates.**

So flash-forward to 1532, when Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro and 168 of his men show up with horses in what is now Peru. And in about one day, the Spanish and their horses defeated thousands of Incan fighters in open battle, captured the Incan god-king Athualpa, and generally made Spain look awesome.

Their stunning victory was in large part due to the Spanish caballeros, who rode into battle astride their massive steeds, terrifying the Incans, who of course had never before seen horses. So frightening were the warhorses that even the Conquistadors themselves were scared of what they had gotten themselves into. Recalled one of Pizarro’s men: ‘We really whipped our horses into a frenzy, and quite honestly, I was worried Old Kicky would freak out and throw me off him. But he was pretty cool about it.’

Anyway, while the Spanish horses were conquering an empire, the Incans’ alpacas were standing around looking for some more grass to eat.

Thanks.

Between the generally creepy appearance, suspect breeding, alleged pyramid schemes, and allowing an ancient empire to be defeated in an afternoon, alpacas have a lot to answer for.

GRADE: F

*c.f. Jared Diamon’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, which you can also rent in DVD form from Netflix and pretty much get the jist of.

**This does not include dogs, which is probably good, since let’s not lump in dogs with alpacas.

15 responses to “Alpacas

  1. I AM VERY OFFENDED BY YOUR REMARKS ABOUT ALPACAS. OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE NOT SPENT MUCH TIME AROUND THEM. THEY ARE NOT AGGRESSIVE ANIMALS BUT ARE VERY EASY TO CARE FOR COMPARED TO COWS, BULLS, AND/OR EVEN HORSES.
    ALPACAS ARE VERY ECO-FRIENDLY, HAVE FIBER TO BE USED IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS. CLOTHING, RUGS, BLANKETS,ETC. THE COMMERCIAL MARKET IS NOT IN PLACE YET BUT REMEMBER THIS ANIMALS HAVE ONLY BEEN IN THE UNITED STATES SINCE 1984. EVEN SO YOU CAN FIND A LOT OF AMERICAN RAISED AND AMERICAN PRODUCED PRODUCTS FOR SALE. YOU SHOULD NOT COMPARE THE ALPACA FARMS WITH THE CATTLE, HOG, SHEEP, GOATS OR HORSES AS THEY HAVE BEEN IN THE COUNTRY FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS. YOU MIGHT DO EVERYONE A FAVOR AND VISIT A FEW ALPACA FARMS AND SPEND SOME TIME AROUND THEM. THEY ARE FAR FROM STUPID ANIMALS.

  2. You forgot to mention that they spit on you when they’re pissed off. I learned this watching “Dirty Jobs”. And I am very impressed that you actually got some hate mail in defense of the Alpaca. Hilarious.

    • The alpaca does not spit, which are spit flames and some humans where maybe you can be included.

      La alpaca no escupe, los que escupen son las llamas y algunos humanos donde quizás tu puedes estar incluida.

  3. 700 ft? My god thats a big damn llama.

  4. The interns in my office thought this was the most hilarious of posts. Just as Karen is, I’m impressed you got hate mail about your hilarious post on alpacas. As impressive–ok, it actually caused me to think the person needs more to do–is that said poster was so incensed s/he posted in all caps, the internet equivalent of screaming to the point that people listen for 3.2 nanoseconds, pick up a magazine and tune out the person and the tirade. Again, another post well done.

  5. The Holy Grail

    That is obvious how someone would take an intended spoof and be offended. Someone lost their sense of humor somewhere between watching Guiding Light and Wheel of Fortune.

    Awesome post keep up the great work

  6. Pingback: Zebra « Animal Review

  7. I’m so sorry to be commenting two years after this post was made, but I ran into traffic on my way here. Anyhoo, this blog is creating all kinds of havoc among my friends since one of us accidentally stumbled upon it this morning, and now you have 330+ stay-at-home-moms who have got nothing done for the ENTIRE DAY beyond posting excerpts to one another on Facebook. Good work. PS Don’t say “cows” when you mean “cattle.” I beg of you. A “cow” can be an elephant or cattle or… a Walmart shopper… any one of a number of creatures. Although, maybe you DID mean elephant cow. Because you didn’t include them in your (Jared Diamond’s) list. Hmm.

    Keep writing. I’m buying your book tomorrow.

    Jill

  8. Heard about your book on NPR and visited the blog. I have read the entire blog in a matter of a few days while at work and while I should be studying…and I still plan on buying the book…or reading the parts not on the website at the bookstore provided how long it takes. The only thing about the book though is it won’t contain the hilarious comments from people with no sense of humor…or will it?

  9. Oddly enough, it does.

  10. lol i agree tara that is one damn big llama

  11. I heard alpaca was responsible for 9/11

    F——-minus-
    😡

  12. I just ran across this article while researching something else, and I can say with quite a bit of authority that the alpaca “industry” in this country is a complete and total scam. My husband and I spent five years of our lives trying to make it work – time and money wasted. We loved our animals – they are quite charming and intelligent. It was wrenching to realize that we had to let them go. This is a pyramid scheme through and through; the only ones who make any profit from it are the larger farms selling to poor suckers like us. I would strongly urge anyone considering buying into this to not do so. Animals are having health and birthing problems that you never hear about when you’re getting “the pitch.” If the American fiber industry is the future, then why are there increasing numbers of animals to be found on rescue farms? I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer the losses we did. Don’t touch this with a ten-foot pole.

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