Alpacas (outside of Zoos) have probably lived in Canada since the 1980s but the
first large importation arrived in Canada on January 2, 1992. This group consisted of
Chilean alpacas resident in New Zealand that had been purchased by a small group of
hopeful Canadian alpaca farmers and investors. The animals were in quarantine in New
Zealand for 1.5 years before arriving in Canada. 170 alpacas in the shipment from
Auckland, New Zealand were dropped off at the Nisku federal quarantine facility in Alberta
and the rest of the alpacas were flown to Mirabelle, Quebec, to another federal quarantine
facility. The alpacas remained in federal quarantine for 150 days. From the federal
quarantine facilities, they went to six on-farm quarantine facilities across Canada. They
remained in on-farm quarantine for another 1.5 years before being formally released by the
Since this first importation, the Canadian
government has negotiated additional protocols with other countries for the importation of
alpacas. There still is quite a bit of red tape but a workable system is in place and it
does not take nearly so long.
A strong alpaca breed association was formed by a
group of these first alpaca owners and breeders early on in the development of this
industry in Canada. It is now known as the Canadian Alpaca Breeders Association. It has
members from all across Canada and is actively involved in public awareness and education
activities as well as in promoting the development of the alpaca breeding and fibre
industry in Canada. It provides support to its members and input to government and other
industry organizations on matters that are relevant to the alpaca industry in
Canada. 1999 marks the inaugural year for the CABA International Fleece Show, being
held in conjunction with Alpacafest in Red Deer, Alberta in July.
The Canadian Llama Association had administered a
government regulated Registry for llamas for some time prior to the first importation of
alpacas. This association now administers a similar Registry for alpacas and formally
changed its name to the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association ("CLAA") in
1996. Government legislation governs the running of these Registries in Canada and
inhibits the establishment in Canada of any competing registries. In addition to
administering the Registry, the CLAA sets and supervises procedures for all alpacas that
wish to enter the Registry. Screening standards were implemented and maintained by the
CLAA to enhance the quality of imported, non-pedigree alpacas entering the Registry. At
this time, screening is no longer conducted as the Registry is now closed to the
registration of non-pedigree alpacas.
All alpacas that have entered the Registry from its
inception have been blood typed or DNA processed. This gives tremendous certainty to the
pedigrees of Canadian registered alpacas. This was an expensive policy decision for a
young industry but it has provided a very solid and credible foundation for the alpaca
breeders in Canada. We have now had importations from Chile, Bolivia, several from
Australia and a number of animals have entered Canada from the United States. Our national
herd now numbers over 4000 with alpaca bloodlines from Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Australia and
the United States.
An alpaca show circuit is developing, supported by
very strong regional clubs and fleece shows are also becoming popular. Public awareness of
our industry has grown tremendously in the last five years. While many people find alpacas
to be an ideal agricultural start up venture, established agricultural operations find it
attractive to diversify into alpacas as well. Farms and ranches range in size from several
alpacas to several hundred alpacas. The number of alpaca farms and ranches in Canada is
expected to reach over 500 by the year 2000.
On the fibre side of the alpaca industry, imported
alpaca yarn has been available as a specialty fibre in Canada for decades. Alpaca has long
been recognized as a luxury fibre by the textile industry. Now, Canadian alpacas are being
shorn annually and their fibre is being processed into a number of products. Several mills
in Canada are gaining expertise in spinning high quality yarn from our home grown fibre.
Most of this yarn is sold to cottage industry enterprises and to the artisan markets of
hand spinners, weavers and knitters. A number of Canadian alpaca product specialty stores
are handling local as well as imported alpaca products. Canadian alpaca fibre is also
being sold at the farm gate by producers and through mail order and wholesale operations.
A Canadian Co-op to handle larger volumes of fibre
has been formed by a number of the breeders and fibre producers in Canada. As the
North American markets for alpaca fibre expand and diversify, the present cottage industry
shows every sign of making the transition to the commercial level.
retail yarn sales and then to commercial textiles is
now underway as the amount of Canadian
fibre being produced annually increases.
Canada's alpaca industry has a lot of positive
aspects going for it, from the pre-eminent registry system, the high quality and diverse
nature of the genetic make up of our national herd to the positive prospects for the
alpaca fibre industry in Canada. The future of the alpaca in Canada is very bright and we
have confidence that the Canadian alpaca industry will continue to prosper and thrive for
years to come.