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Evolution and Origin of the Domestic Camelids

~~~~~~~~~FROM WHERE?~~~~~~~~~
by RMLA members

"Lama" is the modern genus name of South American Camelids (SAC), which (loosly, yet widely accepted in the Camelid community) includes the two wild species, Guanaco and Vicuña, along with the two domesticated ones, Llama and Alpaca.*   The camel family originated on the plains of North America (flourishing as recently as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago) after a couple of mass imigrations South & back North, some Camelids crossed the land bridge to the Asian continent near present day Alaska, and evolved into the Bactrian and Dromedary Camels. Others moved south into South America and evolved into Guanaco & Vicuña. The llama, a domesticated beast of burden, is regarded as the premier symbol of pre-Hispanic South America. The alpaca was domesticated for use of its wonderfully soft fleece. The llama was domesticated for it's ability to carry goods for long distances over the rugged terrain of South America, where the wheel was never invented and would not have been very useful in the rugged terrain. Lamas were among the world's earliest domesticated animals, having been associated with humans for nearly 6000 years. The first llamas were imported into the United States in the 1920s, but the national herd started to grow in the 1970s. Alpacas made their debut in the US in 1983/84 and in 2016 number about 189,000. The imports have come from Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Argentina.   The International Lama Registry(ILR) publishes combined llama and alpaca numbers. ILR numbers for 2016 is approximately 167,000.   Alpaca Registry numbers is approx. 189,000 in 2016. Updated Alpaca Registry/Alpaca Owners Association numbers can be found at: http://www.alpacainfo.com/about/statistics/alpacas-worldwide. For ILR, updated numbers can be found at:  https://secure.lamaregistry.com/registry-services/lama-statistics-lamas.php

Yes, there are two registries for alpacas. ILR was the original alpaca and llama registry.  There was a discussion on what the alpaca community wanted as an alpaca registry, specifically screening of imported alpacas and verified domestic breeding registerization restrictions (using blood work) of alpacas.  At the time ILR did not have such requirements, thus the formation of the Alpaca Registry, Inc.(ARI).  This along with the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) was incorporated in the 1980's as separate non-profit organizations. In 2014 the AOBA and ARI were combined into a single organiztion known as Alpaca Owner Association (AOA).

Their Disposition

Lamas communicate their moods with tail, body and ear positions, and with a variety of vocalizations. They will spit at each other as a gesture of displeasure, but will not spit at humans unless handled in a rough or cruel manner. They rarely bite or kick unless provoked. They are highly social animals and need the companionship of other lamas or other livestock. Their intelligence and their pleasing, diverse personalities provide challenging opportunities for use and training. Llamas are aristocratic and regal, yet llamas and alpacas are both easily trained and have a rather low key, cooperative disposition.

Their Life Cycle and Care

Llama adults weigh 300 to 400 pounds and stand six feet or more at the tops of their ears. The newborn llama cria weighs about 25 pounds. Adult alpacas weigh 150-180 pounds and stand about 5 feet tall at the tops of their ears. At birth the cria weighs about 15 pounds. The lama lifespan is about 20 years. The female is an induced ovulator, and so, if not pregnant, may be bred at any time of the year. Breeding, when managed properly, can be productive and profitable. Alpaca gestation is about 340 days; llamas deliver the cria normally in about 350 days. Births usually occur in the daytime and are usually single; twins are rare. The extreme temperatures (27 degrees F at night to as high as 90 degrees F at mid day) of the Alti Plano of South America has caused the females to adjust birthing so that the cria can warm up and dry off before the cold of night returns. The crias quickly stand to nurse and are more than capable of out running the fastest human within a few hours. Weaning is done at about five-six months.

Lamas are unique among mammals in that they have a long, elliptical blood cells rather than the normal saucer-shaped cell. This allows greater adaptability to many environments. Their evolutionary history has led to lower feed and water requirements compared to other livestock. Their diet is simple and inexpensive. Lamas require a good grade of grass hay, fresh water, and a salt-mineral mix. Some owners add a grain mix, such as small alfalfa pellets or corn for working animals, older animals and nursing females. They can easily become overweight in the lush North American pastures, monitoring weight is important. The US breeders are finding a challenge in adequately feeding our Geriatric animals. Most SA animals go to the meat market about 6-8 years of age.

Lamas are usually disease-resistant; however, like all living things, they can and do become ill and require occasional care. The loss rate in properly cared-for herds is amazingly low. Proper hygiene in pens and stalls, regular de-worming, and a simple and relatively inexpensive preventative medical program under the direction of a veterinarian is recommended.

In 2012 it was found the blood and urine componets of camels (and it's genetic relatives) were found to display anti-cancer properties. Additional information on this, ever changing, subject is best located via Google.

Lamas do not require a large space. Three to five adult llamas or eight to ten alpacas can easily live on one irrigated acre of pasture. Most standard 48-inch fences are adequate, and barbed wire is not needed or recommended. A three-sided shelter for extremes of weather is desirable. Animals kept in a large pasture will probably need a small catch pen. Lamas are clean, essentially odor-free and usually defecate in communal dung piles. Their pelletized manure is easily gathered and is an excellent 'green' fertilizer and earth enhancer.


* Another unofficial, but related Genus of the Lama, a.k.a South American Camelids(SAC), has been cross bred between the Alpaca and Vicuña and is called the Paco-Vicuña.  Peru, the only major country that harbers the Vicuña, has banned exportation of the Vicuña.  To take advantage of the Vicuña fiber producing qualities outside of Peru, pure-bred Alpacas were bred to pure-bred Vicuñas and the result has been exported as Paco-Vicuñas.