The Cruelty Behind Peruvian Alpaca Wool

I’m not going to lie: the cruelty behind Peruvian alpaca wool shocked me. It may shock you, too

By Chere Di Boscio

When I first visited Peru, I saw something adorable. It was an animal that looked like a cross between a camel and Bob Marley. I had never seen one of these things before. Turns out, it was a long-haired alpaca, and the owner of this cutie handed me a pair of shears and asked me to cut off a few of its huge dreadlocks. She was going to make wool from this, she explained, to create blankets to sell to tourists.

As a vegan, I didn’t see anything wrong with doing so. The alpaca was freely roaming in this woman’s yard, and as I chopped off a few dreads, she didn’t seem to notice or mind at all. I naively thought this was how most – if not all – alpaca wool was ‘harvested.’

In fact, I have since moved to Peru, and every alpaca I see is ‘free range’ like the first ‘rasta’ animal I encountered. I had seen a few pushed to the ground to get sheared, but that was a rare occurrence – maybe once a year or so. And since shearing these animals comprised the local people’s traditional and nearly only means of earning a living, I thought that was ok.

Turns out, I was wrong!

Hidden Cruelty

The cousin of the alpaca, the llama, was actually amongst the first ever animals to be domesticated, along with dogs. They served the Inca as a means of transport, and their fluffier relatives, the alpaca, was useful for its warm wool. Today, llamas and alpacas are both very important to the economy of local indigenous communities in the Andes

However, a first-of-its-kind PETA US undercover investigation of Mallkini – the world’s largest privately owned Peruvian alpaca wool farm – has recently unveiled the nasty truth about how alpacas are treated for the textile industry in this country.

Careless, callous farm workers held struggling alpacas by the ears as they were roughly shorn with electric clippers, causing all to cry and some to spit and vomit out of fear. According to PETA US, these workers “slammed the alpacas – some of whom were pregnant – onto tables, tied them to a medieval-looking restraining device, and pulled hard, nearly wrenching their legs out of their sockets.”

The result of such recklessness was that many animals were cut and bleeding from deep wounds. These were then sewn up – without any pain relief for the animal.

PETA notes that since alpacas are prey animals, any kind of restraint is highly distressing to them, due to their deeply ingrained fight or flight instinct. While they were stretched out and violently shorn, it was very clear that all suffered from stress, which could be proven by their cortisol levels, which increase when sheared.

A Swift Reaction

The reaction. of PETA’s report on Peruvian alpaca wool has been swift. Several major fashion retailers, including Esprit, who vowed to phase out alpaca wool from its collections. Gap Inc, owners of several other big brands, including Banana Republic and Athleta, has cut ties with Mallkini’s parent company, the Michell Group, as has H&M. PETA US is asking the Peruvian authorities to investigate the company for possible violations of the country’s animal protection laws.

This will surely come as a blow to the South American country, whose economy has been choked by its President’s strict reaction to the Coronavirus. Many core industries that keep the Peruvian economy alive, including mining, tourism and the production of textiles, have been completely halted for over three months.

PETA Director of Corporate Projects, Yvonne Taylor, believes a ban on alpaca wool is worth the economic damage it may cause: “We urge all retailers to protect these vulnerable animals by banning alpaca wool and are calling on consumers to leave cruelly produced alpaca wool items on the rack,” she says.

Peruvian alpaca wool

Not As Sustainable As You’d Think

Before reading PETA’s report, I believed that alpaca wool was as green as a textile could be. After all, most of it is naturally dyed in Peru from vegetable dyes, and the fabric is completely biodegradable.

What’s more, these camelid animals are usually fed on natural, surrounding pastures, that need no fertilizer or pesticide. Alpacas don’t eat much, and don’t do damage to ecosystems the way cashmere goats do, as they don’t pull grass up from the roots. In fact, I can tell you first hand that many football fields in Peru use sheep and alpaca to ‘mow the lawn’ in an eco-friendly manner on these properties. One animal produces around 2.3kg of high quality fleece annually, and is shorn just once a year.

However, despite these positive points, the Higg Index estimates that Peruvian alpaca wool has a rather high environmental impact. It scores 283, based on enteric methane emissions based on data from Dittmann et al 2014, and due to the methane and nitrous oxide emissions from alpaca manure.

The Higg Index also condemns alpaca farming for eutrophication. This process happens when nutrients from farm waste runoff accumulate in surrounding waterways, causing the growth of toxic algae and making water unpotable for humans and inhabitable for many aquatic species.

Apparently, the reason eutrophication is so significant at alpaca farms is because smallholder farmers in Peru generally stockpile alpaca waste in open air before burning it. The pile of waste can sit for days prior to being burned and once it is set ablaze it can burn for more than 4 days, releasing a large amount of greenhouse gases into the air.

This open-air stockpiling of waste leads to nitrogen and other potentially harmful elements leaching into the soil, and in the end, groundwater. Rainfall will also cause the nutrients to run off directly into surrounding waterways.

Unfortunately, as a developing country, Peru’s farming systems don’t usually include more advanced methods of waste management, such as covering manure stockpiles with impermeable covers, keeping manure storage at a low temperature, burning manure in a closed environment, composting/using manure for fertilisation, etc. It’s a shame, because such practices could better mitigate the chances of eutrophication and reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Peruvian alpaca wool

Some Serious Doubts

While I have no doubt that what the Higg Index says about the environmental impact of alpaca wool is true, I think it’s important to take this Index with a huge, huge grain of salt. They rate silk as being the absolute worst fabric for the environment, and give alpaca a terrible score of 283, while petroleum based fabrics such as acrylic and polyester, which are obviously horrendous for the environment, get a much lower score (52 and 44 respectively).

The site is funded by the US government, amongst other organisations, and seems to favour any petroleum based fabric over anything natural. Even linen and hemp scored worse than polyester! In short, I don’t think I trust the Higg Index at all.

But nonetheless, PETA is raising important questions about how Peruvian farmers treat animals overall. In fact, the country scores the lowest possible in terms of its treatment of farm animals, according to World Animal Protection (it gets a G, which is below an F). Overall, the country only scores a D for its animal welfare practices, These concerns must be addressed immediately, for the sake of the animals.

Would you still buy Peruvian alpaca wool after reading this article? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below!

For more information, please visit PETA UK here. If you would like to see PETA’s exposé of the Peruvian alpaca wool industry, click on the video above. But be warned: it contains scenes some will find distressing.

Chere Di Boscio
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24 thoughts on “The Cruelty Behind Peruvian Alpaca Wool”

  1. That is usually the case Ian. It only takes a very small minority to ruin an industry built by many, over many, many years. I can give you many examples. You say ‘overseas’, but we don’t know where you are?

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  3. I think Petas smear of the alpaca industry is really uncalled for as the video which shows the mistreatment is a rarity in the business. as someone who owns an alpaca farm and works with the animals daily as well as oversees there shearing i can testify that alpacas are treated with extreme care. alpacas do not enjoy shearing but it is required to protect them from potential skin infections and as well as heat problems. the whole shearing only takes around 5 minutes and is made as lease stressful as possible for the animals. also alpacas have little environmental impact as they only eat the tops of plants rather than ripping them all the way out. not only that but alpacas while they do require water that water is added back to the system unlike the water used in the production of other clothes which becomes polluted with chemicals and thus are separated from the water cycle. if anything I think the Higs index and Peta paint an unfair picture of what is an Eco friendly and cruelty free fiber that could help make the shift towards better clothing.

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  5. God forbid poor indigenous workers make a living in an already tourist-exploited industry! Do the animals deserve it? No. However, if you look into the neoliberal programs that exploit states like Peru, you’ll find that it’s the Western nations that control the World Bank and IMF that are exploiting the labor of farmers, who in rush to meet the demand, have to supply vast amounts of alpaca wool. Maybe we should direct our focus to how rich nations exploit the poor and then move onto the treatment of livestock, because the animals won’t be treated fair until you treat the workers and farmers fair.

  6. Hello – Do you have sourcing options for sweaters that are not produced by this factory farm and are in fact produced in a more humane way? thank you!

  7. I’m not defending the farm on the video, but it’s a less than 1% of alpaca production in Peru, most of which is done in very small herds by families who care deeply for their animals. Yes, they could do better with runoff but it’s a typically self-serving position for PETA to decide that the economic damage of their campaign is worth it. I work with some of these families who will not be able to put food on the table or get medical care during a pandemic because PETA is trying to destroy the market for alpaca. Why don’t they try to work with the good farmers to improve their practices?

    1. Yes, I have to agree with you, and I believe those points are mentioned in the article. I have seen for myself that most Peruvian alpaca ranchers are very kind to their animals, and only shear them once a year – and it only takes around 30 mins to do so. The poorest people in Peru often fully rely on these animals for their living, something I think PETA should also take into account

    2. Thank you for this note. I was mortified by the video in this incredibly important article, and am quite relieved to hear that most alpaca farms in Peru are run by families who actually care for the animals. We should all be more educated on where our clothes come from.

  8. This is heartbreaking. I never even thought about alpaca wool until this investigation, but now that I know what these gentle and obviously terrorized animals go through, I will never buy wool of any kind.

  9. I’m so glad that you wrote this article. People need to know the truth about this industry and tourist gimmick. I never have and never will buy Peruvian alpaca wool because I don’t believe in wearing, eating, experimenting on, and exploiting animals.

  10. Thank you for sharing this information. PETA’s eyewitness investigations of the fashion industry have revealed time and again that when animals are seen as nothing more than commodities to be turned into scarves and sweaters, cruelty will always be part of the picture. The only truly ethical options are vegan.

  11. The Higg index only rates the production of a material – it’s not cradle to grave project – so the issues with the disposal of petrol-based materials are not accounted for. I still think that Higgs is an important tool as there is just a huge lack if it comes to the ecological comparison of mateirals within the whole textile industry. Higg is by far not perfect but there is also no other tool that tries to do something similar and the textile industry should finally take some money and change this, BUT even if an animal based material would score better if you look at the animal cruelty I would never prefer it. And people can always chose plant based materials and nobody has to wear either petrol nor animal based. Also turning crop fields or crop field waste into synthetics is a growing field as well. So hopefulyl no more petrol based clothing OR abused animals in the future of fashion.

  12. I hope everyone searches how their sweater is made. This broke my heart. Good job for sharing this Eluxe, let’s spread the word together.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this useful information, that video was really sad and shocked me a lot.

  14. I didn’t know about all that animal cruelty that happens. When i was in Perú I noticed that it is so popular: the tourists buying products made of alpaca wool. Like you, i didn’t notice the problem about it, until now.

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