You say Alpaca, I say funky fur

Dan Thrift/Nevada Appeal News SErvice Alpaca rugs are on display outside Alpaca Advantage in South Lake Tahoe.

Dan Thrift/Nevada Appeal News SErvice Alpaca rugs are on display outside Alpaca Advantage in South Lake Tahoe.

If it hasn't happened already, the alpaca boom is here.

A native animal of Peru related to the llama and thought to have mystical qualities, alpacas have become the latest new pet trend while its fur has been peddled in South Lake Tahoe for years.

The number of alpaca stores in South Shore rivals the number of Starbucks shops. Paula Moreno, a partner of Alpaca Adventures near Stateline, said Tahoe's tourist population contributes to the presence of alpaca products.

"I don't know," she said. "I guess being a tourist industry up here. It's not something you find in the malls. I think there are certain products in a tourist industry that you can't necessarily find in larger cities."

With two stores in Meyers and a handful in the city, along with one in Tahoma and others scattered along busy roads, alpaca wares, especially rugs, dot the Tahoe landscape.

"I think part of the reason is alpaca fur is so warm," said Sands Bellizzi, a former alpaca rancher in Gardnerville who moved to Yerington with her husband. "It's even warmer than wool so it needs a colder climate and that's a colder climate."

Corey Funk, owner of Alpaca Pete's in Tahoe Paradise for 11 years, said the chain began when an alpaca importer lived in Tahoe.

Funk agreed with Moreno regarding alpaca being a tourist-aimed industry. Few Tahoe residents purchase his products, Funk said.

"It's something they don't see just everywhere," he said.

An alpaca's fur can be made into several products, from suits to slippers to rugs to sweaters. Most are sold at high prices. Armani uses alpaca thread in its suits. One sweater sold for $150 at Alpaca Adventures. Moreno said the store experienced three price increases from wholesalers but refused to pass them along to customers.

Despite their elegance, pedestrian Lois Tenney from Utah said the rugs didn't fit her style.

"They're beautiful but I wouldn't want one," she said.

According to Alpaca Registry Inc., which tracks the lineage and ownership of the animals, about 80,000 alpacas were in the United States at the end of 2005.

In 1980 the first alpacas that were not housed in zoos arrived in the United States, according to the registry.

While the number of alpacas in the U.S. have grown, and television commercials in places like Dallas tout the animals as good pets, the country won't have a viable alpaca fur industry until numbers approach the 1 million mark.

"We just don't have enough animals to have a major fiber processing center here," said Gordon Anderson, executive director of the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association.

Anderson guessed the number of animals for the United States to be considered an alpaca powerhouse would have to range from 500,000 to 1 million.

Alpaca fibers are hollow, Moreno said, which make them breathable in the summer and warm like wool in the winter. Plus, they come from an animal some believe to have mystical powers.

"They have wonderful eyes that seem to look right into your soul," Anderson said.


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