The alpaca is the most numerous of the four South American camelids. Approximately 3,5 million animals live in the high Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and today they are also bred in other parts of the world. The largest alpaca population (80%) can be found in Peru. They are animals of fine appearance, harmonious in their walk and with a slender body covered with beautiful fleece. The alpacas as domestic species are brought up in herds. Their main production is fiber, having more than twenty different colors like white, roan, brown, grey and black. Alpacas are sheared once per year, producing an average of 2,5 kg of fiber per animal. It is an animal of medium size, 80-90 cm at the withers and weighs up to 70 kg. There are two breeds of alpaca: the Huacaya with its very dense and curly fur and the Suri, with a long and wavy fur, which has the finest fiber of the two species.
The characteristics of the alpaca fiber are the results of a long process of adaptation to its environment, the Andes mountains. Alpacas can live up to 4,500 meters above sea level where climatic conditions are extreme, with a variation of 30º Celsius between day and night, low oxygen, intense sunlight, and freezing winds. Alpaca fleece is very thin (17 - 24 micrometers in diameter - half of that of sheep), warm, soft and light thanks to micro air bubbles contained, water- and dirt proof, flame-resistant and resistant to solar radiation. Its thermal properties are superior to those of mohair and cashmere and even more of sheep.
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