It wasn’t that long ago that alpacas were an endangered species, at least in the United States.
In 1964, there were only 9 alpacas in the United States, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, now the Oklahoma City Zoo, was able to acquire one of those on permanent loan.
His name was Manco, and, according to a story in The Oklahoman announcing his arrival, the zoo’s director, Warren Thomas, hoped to selectively breed the alpaca with its larger cousin, the llama. His intent was to cross breed until the offspring were mostly alpaca and protect the animal from extinction in the United States.
No information exists on how successful Thomas was, but his preservation plan was no longer needed because in 1984, a 1940′s importation ban to protect against hoof and mouth disease was lifted.
Between 1984 and 1996, importations of alpacas were allowed from South America, until the Alpaca Registry closed the registration books to only American bred animals.
Margie Ray of Ray Farms, considered the founder of alpaca breeding in Oklahoma, acquired 3 imported alpacas in 1986.
There are now more than 170,000 alpacas in the United States, and, in 2009, there were more than 80 farms in Oklahoma.
Alpacas are raised for their hair or fiber. They come in 22 colors and two types: suri, which has long silky hair, and huacaya, which has soft fluffy hair.
Once a year, usually in spring after the show season, the animals are sheared to make them more comfortable during the summer heat and the fiber is processed for various uses, such as roving for spinners, thread for weavers, and yarn for those who knit and crochet, rugs, jewelry and more.
The Alpacas of Oklahoma, A-OK, are having their annual show Easter weekend, April 7 and 8, at Shawnee’s Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, 30 miles east of Oklahoma City and easily accessible from Interstate 40.
The alpacas are shown at halter, obstacle, public relation, junior exhibitor and showmanship. Costume classes also are presented.
The show is free to the public and offers an opportunity to meet alpacas and their owners and to buy alpaca fiber, yarn, jewelry and other alpaca related items. You might even buy an alpaca or two.