Alpacas have coexisted with humankind for thousands of years. The Incan civilization of the Andes Mountains in Peru elevated the alpaca to a central place in their society. The imperial Incas clothed themselves in garments made from alpaca and many of their religious ceremonies involved the animal. Museums throughout the Americas display textiles made from alpaca fiber.
The Spanish conquistadors failed to see the value of alpaca fiber, preferring the merino sheep of their native Spain. For a time, alpaca fiber was a well-kept secret. In the middle 1800's, Sir Titus Salt of London, England rediscovered alpaca. The newly industrialized English textile industry was at its zenith when Sir Titus began studying the unique properties of alpaca fleece. He discovered, for instance, that alpaca fiber was stronger than sheep's wool and that its strength did not diminish with fineness of staple. The alpaca textiles he fashioned from the raw fleece were soft, lustrous, and they soon began making their mark across Europe.
- The alpaca's feet are padded and they leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged as it browses on native grasses.
- An alpaca is a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. It converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.
- Its camelid ancestry allows the alpaca to thrive without consuming very much water, although an abundant, fresh water supply is necessary.
- The alpaca does not usually eat or destroy trees, preferring tender grasses, which it does not pull up by the roots.
- South American Indians use alpaca dung for fuel and gardeners find the alpaca's rich fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.
- A herd of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling the spread of parasites, and making it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer.
- An alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create several soft, warm sweaters for its owners comfort. This is the alpaca's way of contributing to community energy conservation efforts.