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Dario Mayta, the son of Jose Mayta, with one of the
alpacas that his father received from Heifer.

Llamas and their cousin the alpaca have been invaluable for the people of South America since the Incas domesticated them around 4,000 B.C. While llamas are best known for their wool, they also have keen eyesight and can act as guards, protecting other herds from potential predators.

Jose Mayta and his wife Utilia Chura-Laura.

In the isolated village of Pallallani, Bolivia, Jose Mayta and Utilia Chura-Laura took the gift of two alpacas and made a thriving farm. The couple now has 60 adult alpacas. Each is sheared once a year and provides about four pounds of wool. Though the market is a seven-hour walk, Jose knows the money he  makes there will go toward the children's education. In god years, alpaca wool sells between $5 and $7 per pound, so he can earn a total of $1,300 to $1,700 from his alpaca herd.

Clothing and Blankets
The wool that llamas and alpacas provide is prized when woven into blankets, ponchos, carpet and rope. And with each animal providing between four and eight pounds of wool a year, weaving can become a lucrative business.

Protected Ecosystems
Pasture land in the Andean Mountains is scarce, and vegetation at high altitudes is fragile. But with their padded, two-towed feet, llamas leave little impact on the mountain ecosystems. Their droppings can also help fertilize the scarce topsoil.

Families high in the Andean mountains use llamas as pack animals to move goods to markets. Depending on the terrain, llamas can carry up to 30 percent of their body weight, making them better pack animals than horses.

This holiday season, give the gift of a llama in honor of Cousin Frank, who always won the spitting contests when you were kids. Read more about Heifer's work with llamas and alpacas to see why they're a winning pick for many families in South America.

Photos by Christian DeVries.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.