Alpacas originate from South America and are bred from the wild Vicuna which is now a rare and protected species. The llama is bred from the wild Guanaco, which is still relatively common through out South America. They are both in the camelid family, which also Includes the Asian camel. Domesticated for 9000 years, alpacas have played an important role in the survival and economy of the Andean people in South America. The value of the alpaca and llama was recognised as early as the 14th Century, when the Incas in South America used alpacas and Llamas for food, fuel, clothing, transportation and religious ceremony. Alpacas were considered so important to the survival of the indigenous people they were tightly controlled by the government and Incan royalty.
Alpacas and llamas thrived at this period with numbers swelling to 50 million animals. The decline of alpacas began in 1532 when the Spanish invaded South America and alpacas were pushed towards the Andes – 98% of the alpaca population were killed by the Spanish invaders. Llamas and alpacas were left to interbreed and changed from a single-coated animal to the two-coated animal of today. Breeding programs of today are aimed at improving the quality of alpaca and llama by breeding not forward but back to where it was some 500 years ago, prior to the Spanish conquest.