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Alpaca Articles

Nic and Linda keep up-to-date with the latest in alpaca information, by reading widely, being a member of the New Zealand, Australian, British and American alpaca associations, and attending conferences worldwide.

They share this knowledge with others through holding industry training days and workshops, writing articles for industry magazines in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and USA and also through articles on this website and other websites.

Click here for more articles  




By Nic Cooper Southern Alpacas Stud



First Questions First

Why is an alpaca not registered and not registerable?

Any alpaca whose parents are registered can be registered.  There are late fees of course – but it is registerable.

 Which means that somewhere in the background of those not registerable, there is an ancestor that for some reason was not, at the time, registered.

This cannot be just something someone forgot. Because it is always possible to go back and register and re-create the line.  There has to be another reason.

We can think of only 3 possible reasons.

1)     The ancestor was deliberately taken off the registry or not put on because of some known genetic problem.

2)     No A4 was issued because the mating fee was not paid.

3)     The sire of the unregistered ancestor was not a certified male and no-one has gone back and done the certification in retrospect (maybe because the male has subsequently died).

Any other circumstance is fixable without a lateral registry. 


And in cases 1) and 2) above there is a very good reason why the ancestor was excluded for the registry -  either genetic or commercial.  AANZ should not arbitrarily override these decisions made by the breeder concerned.

Surely case 3) has so few instances they can be dealt with on individual exception basis.

It is also worth noting that in 1997 – 4 years after the commencement of the IAR, the registry was re-opened for the input of NZ foundation animals and all members of AANZ (ALANZ as it was) were contacted and given the opportunity to enter any and all alpacas they wanted.

As President at the time, I handled the process. I know of no breeder who accidentally missed that window of opportunity.  A few chose to miss it.  Several followed the instruction not to register alpacas with genetic fault.



Genetic Risk of unregistered alpacas and imports from countries without registries.

To start to discuss this issue, let’s go right back to the start of the alpaca industry in New Zealand, Australia and USA, in the period 1989 – 1995.

At this time there were no Alpaca Registries, although there were thoughts about starting them.  There were no disqualifying faults.  There was no import screening.  And most buyers of alpacas were naïve about what they were buying.

Basically 3 things happened then that have taken a long time to sort out in their respective countries. Each country was slightly different, had slightly different problems, and sorted them out differently.



New Zealand -  the Gringo’s are coming!

In 1987 when the first shipments of alpacas to NZ were being gathered together in Chile by the two main importers to NZ, the word soon got around the altiplano that there were gringo alpaca buyers who were buying anything for hard foreign currency.

Because the Chilean sellers were peasant stock, there was no planned breeding in these animals, and unfortunately there was quite a lot of in-breeding over generations. Some of the “alpacas” were actually largely huarizos - llama/alpaca crosses.  

It appears the importers for NZ were buying from villages where in-breeding had developed a penchant for kinked tails and fused ears.   These may or may not have been displayed in the animals actually selected for NZ, as fused ears can skip a generation.  But these faults became a common occurrence in the next generation to be born in quarantine, and in NZ.



Australia – the same story

Exactly the same happened with the first Australian shipments (which actually came through NZ and gained residence here before heading on to Australia).

Except these shipments seemed to have been sourced from an area where fused toes were common. They thus became a common feature of the Australian herd.


UK – a more recent event

20 years on, and European buyers were visiting Peru and Chile to import bulk to UK.  A particularly well fibered older male was found and quickly bought and shipped to UK.  No-one was able to look at progeny, because there were no records showing who his progeny were.

He was of an excellent standard, so he was mated across much of the import herd, and had a large booking list for UK females in his first year in the country.

Then a number of his offspring (not all) were noticed by breeders – or worse by judges in the show-ring – to have an additional toe part way up the lower rear leg.

By this time of course his genes were well through the UK herd and no-one knows whether the mutant gene lies dormant in his progeny that did not display the trait.


USA – they thought they had it covered

In 1994 and 1995 a number of US breeders sourced a number of top males from the accoyo herd in Peru.  Recognising the problems of the past, they put into place a detailed and costly screening process - both phenotypic and veterinary.  This same screening that has been adopted by most other importing countries in the world.

These males went back to USA as the venerable ancestors to the US herd.

Some (names we still know) succeeded.  Some failed for fibre or progeny reasons.  However a few (about 10%)  started producing cria with genetic fault. Particularly choanal atresia – which in its full form is invariably fatal.

A cria with CA can either breathe, or suckle - it cannot do both at once. It is a tragedy to watch their demise over several days. despite the best of interventions.

Regrettably some larger breeders having invested heavily in these males, were reluctant to pull the males from the gene pool, and only did so when public opinion and law suits got oppressive.

As alpacas spread from the USA to first Australia and then on to NZ, the incidence of choanal atresia has first appeared, and then grown, in these two countries.  The problem was imported, despite screening. 


Recognising the problem    

Unfortunately at the start of all these events, the importers and early breeders concerned either failed to notice, or chose to ignore, the problem.  It spread in the national herds.

One of the first to recognise the problem in NZ and take action was George Davis of AgResearch. They were one of the major initial suppliers of alpacas within the country. This was about 1993.

He took the view that these alpacas carrying or possibly carrying genetic fault could still be useful in the herd as commercial animals or pets, so they were sold as such – but were sold cheaply without registration papers.  At the time of the big re-opening of the IAR for NZ animals (1997), George took the view that he would not register AgResearch alpacas suspected of carrying fault.

Similarly at that time males were sold as pets – but un-wethered and without registration papers.   The intention was they would never be used as a working male as they had no registration papers. (There was no compulsory certification at that time).



Forgetting the problem

Unfortunately as time went by, owners of these non-registered alpacas (bought cheaply) – or more pertinently, owners of their (sold) offspring – tried to get them registered, as that allowed them to command a greater price for the alpaca and their offspring.

The Registry always referred these applicants back to George Davis, and George normally refused to give permission for Registration.

If the owner had an alpaca that appeared normal, then this caused acrimony, as there was no clear evidence that the alpaca had or was carrying an undesirable trait.


The tale of a sad herd    

By 2002 a small  breeder (30 or so alpacas) was getting fed up with the bad luck he was having in birthing, and with deaths and unhealthy cria and adults. He came to us at Southern Alpacas to see what could be done. 

A review of the herd showed that of his 6 foundation females (all bought from the same source), 1 had fused ears, and 3 carried the fused ear gene which displayed in later generations.

Because this was a closed herd (in house matings done) the problem perpetuated and spread across the whole herd. Interestingly the fault quite regularly skipped generations with those not displaying the fault, or displaying it in a less severe form, clearly carrying it on to the next generation.

The breeder became so disillusioned he left the industry and the alpacas were sold as recipients to the then burgeoning ET industry.



Whilst many who have entered the alpaca industry in recent years will not recognise it,   the base of the original NZ alpaca herd

  • Had a large llama influence
  • Had a high incidence of genetic fault that has a tendency to skip generations.

Similarly the import of alpacas from countries without registries and without sound progeny data and analysis has allowed other countries genetic problems to enter national herds across the world.

Over the past 20 years a great deal has been done by responsible breeders to cull these faults, and the alpacas carrying them, from the national herd through actual culling, through cessation of breeding, and through refusal of registration.

It would be a great shame if the introduction of a lateral registry in NZ allowed these faults (possibly sitting dormant in the current generation of unregistered alpacas) to re-enter the registered national herd.

It would also be a great shame if the door remained open for the genetic faults of countries without registries to slip through screening on a dormant generation because genetic due diligence of progeny could not be performed.



This paper was presented to the AANZ AGM in Lincoln June 2009 by Linda Blake.

The majority of the 90 people there gave this presentation a favourable response, either at the time, or in later comments and discussions.

Updated August 2009

Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Main West Coast Road, West Melton, RD1, Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone 0064 3 318-1917 | fax 0064 3 318-1927 | email alpacasnz@xtra.co.nz