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Alpacas in New Zealand - an introduction 

Alpacas (and to a much lesser extent llamas) are used in New Zealand for the production of fibre for garments. Currently there are over 11,000 animals in New Zealand and the numbers are increasing. In well-run studs and commercial blocks, good quality fibre and livestock (both as breeding stock and pets) are produced for sale. 

The alpaca is a domesticated species of South American camelid. Alpacas differ from true ruminants (like cattle) by having different dentition (they sometimes have signs of vestigial upper and canine fighting tusks), and in having a three-chambered stomach. Alpacas do not have hooves, but rather a two-toed foot with soft pads and nails.

In South America, alpacas are found grazing at high altitudes in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia, where they are used as a source of fibre and meat. They thrive under extreme conditions and are able to derive their nutrition from scarce high altitude grasses, lichens and moss.

In their natural home environment (usually between 3,000 and 5,000 metres above sea level), alpacas are seen as sturdy, healthy animals. To a certain extent that applies in New Zealand as well but a few important key points need to be considered:

  • At low altitude, UV light intensity is much lower, and much less of it reaches the skin level. Hence, sunlight-induced vitamin D synthesis is decreased in our low altitude conditions.
  • Exposure to gastrointestinal parasites is high, and natural immunity to these is low.
  • Exposure to certain toxins such as Facial Eczema spores and ryegrass endophytes is a risk and potentially devastating to the animal.
  • Ready-available soft plants (grasses etc) tend not to cause enough dental attrition and teeth can become long.
  • High planes of nutrition above what would be found at the high altitudes of South America can lead to severe obesity.

At Totally Vets we offer a comprehensive health service for your alpaca. Our services include:

  • Cria care and plasma production and infusion
  • Dental care
  • General health check
  • Emergency service
  • Pregnancy scanning
  • Parasite management plan