Alpacas in the Andes
Who would have thought that an alpaca would be essential to life? Well, to the indigenous tribes in the Andes Mountains, they are. But, with extremely freezing temperatures and adverse weather conditions in the winter, alpacas in the Andes are dying off in large numbers.

Secluded from most life and with little government help, “the indigenous communities living high up in the Andes … are some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Peru.”

These desperate and cold Peruvians rely on alpacas for many of their daily necessities, including transportation to the market, wool for warmth, milk and cheese for nutrition and manure for fuel. Losing thousands of alpacas in the Andes is a devastating reality that the Peruvians are starting to grasp.

The weather has been so terrible in some parts of the Andes, killing tens of thousands of alpacas, that the government declared a state of emergency. Even children have been dying from the abnormal cold front. Ignacio Beneto Huamani, an Andes Peruvian, stated, “If the alpaca die, then we all die.”

Bringing hope and technological solutions to the Andes Mountains, nongovernmental organization Practical Action is working with the communities to try and protect the alpacas and, therefore, Peruvians’ lives.

There are three ways that Practical Action is working to protect the alpacas in the Andes.

1. Shelters

Building shelters from local materials is an easy way that alpacas can escape the cold and hopefully death. Trusting that sheltering more alpacas from the elements will save more, some shelters store up to 50 alpacas at once.

2. Nutrition

Keeping the alpacas in the Andes fed properly is another major concern. When the winter storms hit, most vegetation dies off. That which is left is usually used to feed the children and weak community members. Since the alpacas are necessary for humans’ wellbeing, this is a vicious circle.

Practical Action has introduced a way to grow blocks of barley for the alpacas. In a simple two-week process, barley grains are planted in a trough of water, exposed to sunlight and kept hydrated. Then the barley grains are formed into blocks, which are fed to the alpacas to help them recover their strength.

3. Veterinarians

Since most alpaca owners are not high-class doctors, they are not sure how to treat different diseases that the alpacas can contract. Practical Action has trained over 35 farmers to be aware of the different diseases and how to treat them. These basic veterinary skills are essential if the Peruvians want to try and salvage their alpacas in the Andes.

These three techniques that Practical Action is using are already helping some communities save their precious livestock. A local alpaca farmer, Emilio Chalco Valladares, said that “we save much time because we have the knowledge ourselves and diseases don’t spread. Animals don’t die anymore.”

With more support and training, hopefully, one day soon alpacas in the Andes will thrive again.

Sydney Missigman

Photo: Flickr