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Alpacas in Australia



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The first shipment of alpacas to Australia occurred in 1857, and was made into the South Australian settlement of Port Lincoln. The four animals, three black females and one black male, were to the order of Mr. William Haigh, and were purchased from Sir Titus Salt of England. Sir Titus was a leader in the development of the wool milling industry in that country during the industrial revolution.

With Mr. Haigh having no knowledge of the peculiarities of breeding alpacas, this venture met a rather quick end. This was likely to happen anyway, as with such a small number of animals, continued breeding would have been impossible.

In November 1850, a meeting of Sydney businessmen subscribed £2,000 to import a shipment of alpacas from Peru to Australia to be bred as rivals to merinos for their fine, silk-like fleece.

The idea was not new, for Governor King had first suggested it back in 1803, but for various reasons he had been unable to carry it through. This time a ship was chartered and sent to South America, but to the disappointment of its sponsors the ship returned empty, with the news that a ban on the export of alpacas, imposed by the Peruvian Government in 1845, was still in force.

The next move came from Charles Ledger, an adventurous Englishman who had lived in Peru and had been the first man to smuggle out in any quantity the seeds of the Cinchona tree, from the bark of which quinine is made.

In 1852, Ledger proposed to the British Government that he should smuggle out a shipment of alpacas for Australia, but for diplomatic reasons his offer was officially rejected. He then sailed to Sydney, interviewed Governor Fitzroy and claimed, probably correctly, that he had been unofficially promised 10,000 acres of land if he brought 100 alpacas into the country. The Governor had invited him to go ahead.

Back in Peru, Ledger spent the next five years assembling a flock of alpacas and llamas. Because of the export ban, it was difficult and dangerous work and Ledger is said to have spent two short periods in jail. At one time he had assembled about 1,000 animals, but lost nearly half of them in a snowstorm. On another occasion 200 died when they drank poisoned water.

Ledger persisted however, and eventually, by travelling through Bolivia and the mountains of Argentina, he and his assistant, Pedro Cabreba, reached a Chilean port with a flock of alpacas, llamas and a few vicunas. These were embarked on the ship Salvadora, which reached Sydney in November 1858. A total of 282 animals had survived the voyage, comprising 46 male and 38 female pure alpacas, 110 female llama, 43 alpaca-llama crossbreds, with 40 cria, and one female and 4 male vicunas.

With Careba as flockmaster, the new arrivals were accommodated temporarily in the Sydney Domain, where they attracted a great deal of attention and curiosity. Then they were moved to Liverpool and later to Wingello, near Goulburn. In April 1859 Ledger sold the whole flock to the New South Wales Government for £15,000, and with the proceeds bought a property and settled in the same area.

Ultimately all Ledgers efforts were in vain. Due to a combination of environmental factors and mismanagement, the animals failed to thrive and breed. Many died during the drought of 1862-3, and their numbers steadily decreased until there were none left by 1880.

Nearly 110 years later, alpacas again made the journey to Australia, this time from Chile via New Zealand. This was the first of a number of importations from both Chile and also Peru. With numbers having now grown to in excess of 130,000, and quality equalling and even surpassing those of the South American continent, alpaca farming in this country has now reached the point of being a fully-fledged livestock industry.

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