Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo





Alpacas were domesticated to be a food source about 5,500 years ago. One or two thousand years later, people began using alpacas for other purposes, including wool and transportation. Today they are bred exclusively for wool.

Inca Empire

The Inca used alpaca wool for clothing, which kept them warm in cold mountain air, as well as tapestries, rope, twine, and bags. They also used alpacas for food, made blankets from their pelts, and burned their dung as fuel.

Staying Warm

Alpacas thrive at high elevations. Their thick wool coats keep them warm, and their extra-large hearts and lungs keep their bodies well-supplied with oxygen in the thin air of their mountain homes.

Wild cousins

Alpacas are camelids, a group of animals that includes dromedaries and bactrian camels (which can be found in northern Africa and central Asia) and guanacos and vicuñas (which can be found in South America). The larger group to which alpacas belong is order Artiodactyla, which includes deer, hippos, antelopes, and sheep. At the National Zoo, you can see collared peccaries, scimitar-horned oryx, cows, hogs, and goats.