The llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña are four species of camelid native to the high-altitude zones of the central and southern Andes in Peru. Raised by Andean peoples on the grasslands of the high plateau, the domesticated camelids, llamas and alpacas, are valued primarily for their wool, hides, and meat. Although not as large as the Old World camel, llamas are prized as pack animals for transporting food products to and from lower altitudes. The wild vicuña, the smallest of the species, is used mainly for its soft fine wool. The undomesticated and increasingly rare guanaco is hunted for meat and especially for pelts. Ranchers consider guanacos a threat to pastureland needed for livestock.
Llamas and alpacas have been central to the livelihood of Andean peoples since their domestication between 4000 and 3000 bce. In the Inca state (c. 1430–1532) Andean communities developed large herds of llamas and alpacas in order to maintain a steady supply of wool, meat, and animals for ritual sacrifice. As a hedge against famine the Inca state promoted the storage of dried llama meat (charqui). Mountain pastoralists under Spanish colonial rule produced alpaca wool for export. For most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the economy of southern Great Peru revolved around the export of high-grade alpaca wool to Britain. The collapse of the wool export boom in the 1920s, coupled with the expansion of cattle raising, has led to a sharp reduction in camelid herds. Nevertheless, the Peruvian government has begun to assist mountain communities in building up alpaca herds.
See alsoWool Industry .
Orlove, Benjamin S. Alpacas, Sheep, and Men: The Wool Export Economy and Regional Society of Southern Peru. New York: Academic Press, 1977.
Franklin, William L. "Biology, Ecology, and Relationship to Man of the South American Camelids." In Mammalian Biology of South America, edited by M. A. Mares and H. H. Genoways, 457-489. Linesville, PA: Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology/University of Pittsburgh, 1982.
Masuda, Shozo, Izumi Shimada, and Craig Morris, eds. Andean Ecology and Civilization. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1985.
Steven J. Hirsch
lla·ma / ˈlämə/ • n. a domesticated pack animal (Lama glama) of the camel family found in the Andes, valued for its soft woolly fleece. ∎ the wool of the llama. ∎ cloth made from such wool.