John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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The Alpaca Industry in Australia

The alpaca industry in Australia began with a false start when Charles Ledger smuggled a number of alpacas, vicuna and llamas out of South America in a speculative attempt to begin a new industry in the 19th Century.  It was not until the late 1980's that the modern Australian alpaca industry began.

Australia provides an interesting contrast to the US alpaca industry, and may well offer some insight into the future.  Influenced by the deep history of the wool markets in the Land Down Under, and subject to the pressure of a much smaller base population, the Australians have moved towards a commercial fiber industry more quickly than has the U.S.

However, this has not been without its own set of pitfalls.

  Australia has a national herd size roughly equivalent to that of the United States, but a population only 10% of that in the U.S.  This placed limits on the lifespan of the speculative breeder's market yet to be felt in the U.S., and forced the Australian industry to move towards maturity much sooner.

The Australian Alpaca Association (AAA) was organized early on, and is broken up into an effective system of regional affiliate organizations.  The AAA maintains a DNA based registry of pedigrees similar to the Alpaca Registry, Inc. in the United States.  The Australians also formed a fiber cooperative very soon after alpacas were imported into the country.

By the late 1990's things were changing rapidly.

After a brief experiment with closure of the registry to imported animals, it was reopened with an eye to gaining access to the best possible genetics in the world.  Breed standards were adopted and strict screening procedures were put in place.

Meanwhile significant research was undertaken regarding both alpaca fiber and the animals themselves (some receiving significant government subsidies).  Artificial insemination is in use in Australia, and crossing of suri and huacaya alpacas is being done in order to increase the size and quality of the suri alpaca herd.

The Australian alpaca fiber cooperative made some early strategic errors, including the investment of significant capital in ownership of a textile mill, and was forced to liquidate.  It has been reorganized as a traditional corporation - Australian Alpaca Fleece, Ltd (AAFL) - and has set its goal to provide high quality graded fiber to manufacturers.  (A side effect of this restructuring and refocus of purpose has been the relatively low price return to fiber producers in Australia.)

The Australians have begun exploring markets for both consumption and hides.   And, they have begun to export significant amounts of fiber to China and back to South America, as well as exporting animals to Europe and China.

These changes have not come without some pain.

In 2005 a major split occurred in the Australian alpaca community with the formation of the Australiasian Alpaca Breeders Association (AABA).  Like the AAA, AABA maintains a registry of pedigree and duplicates many other functions of the AAA.

It appears that this split was precipitated by perceptions of a lack of fairness, democratic control and economic disadvantage by a significant number of alpaca breeders.  It is too soon to evaluate the overall impact of these developments, but it should be noted that many of the issues faced by the Australians have been mirrored in the United States, and similar complaints by breeders have arisen from time to time.


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"...a look of fatigue in Rose's face, the brilliancy of her eyes, the emaciation of the body beneath her grey alpaca dress, and that air of false serenity masking hysteric excitement which she seemed to have noticed..."

Arnold Bennett
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