John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
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Darwin on Alpacas

Charles Darwin came across alpacas on his famous voyage aboard the Beagle - an experience that contributed to him writing The Origin of Species.  Interestingly, he documented the practices of the indigenous people and used it in support of his theory of Natural Selection.  Also of note is the fact that he mentions Charles Ledger, who was involved in an early, albeit aborted attempt to export alpacas to Australia.

"The most curious case of selection by semi-civilised people, or indeed by any people, which I have found recorded, is that given by Garcilazo de la Vega, a descendant of the Incas, as having been practised in Peru before the country was subjugated by the Spaniards. The Incas annually held great hunts, when all the wild animals were driven from an immense circuit to a central point. The beasts of prey were first destroyed as injurious. The wild Guanacos and Vicunas were sheared; the old males and females killed, and the others set at liberty. The various kinds of deer were examined; the old males and females were likewise killed, "but the young females, with a certain number of males, selected from the most beautiful and strong," were given their freedom. Here, then, we have selection by man aiding natural selection. So that the Incas followed exactly the reverse system of that which our Scottish sportsman are accused of following, namely, of steadily killing the finest stags, thus causing the whole race to degenerate.

"In regard to the domesticated llamas and alpacas, they were separated in the time of the Incas according to colour: and if by chance one in a flock was born of the wrong colour, it was eventually put into another flock...and Vicuna, found wild and undoubtedly [a] distinct species; the Llama and Alpaca known only in a domesticated condition. These four animals appear so different, that most naturalists, especially those who have studied these animals in their native country, maintain that they are specifically distinct, notwithstanding that no one pretends to have seen a wild llama or alpaca. Mr. Ledger, however, who has closely studied these animals both in Peru and during their exportation to Australia, and who has made many experiments on their propagation, adduces arguments which seem to me conclusive, that the llama is the domesticated descendant of the guanaco, and the alpaca of the vicuna. And now that we know that these animals were systematically bred and selected many centuries ago, there is nothing surprising in the great amount of change which they have undergone." ~Charles Darwin

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"She was very pleasing in her address and modest in her manner, and was clad in a nice, new alpaca. I am certain she could not have made that..."

Robert E. Lee
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
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