MICROCHIPS TO GUARD PERUVIAN ALPACAS
MICROCHIPS TO GUARD PERUVIAN ALPACAS
2005-04-03 at 12:39:00 pm #29082Microchips to guard Peruvian alpacasHigh in the Andes mountains, the air is thin, the climate is
harsh and the land is barren.
SCraping a living in this part of Peru is difficult at the best of times. For
thousands of communities, the sole means of survival is raising alpacas for
their valuable wool.
But that survival is threatened by the trafficking of thousands of
the best animals across the border to neighbouring Bolivia or Chile every year.
From there, they are sent to countries as far afield as Australia and the
United States, where they are sold for their wool or as pets and can fetch
thousands and thousands of dollars.
For many poor Peruvian farmers, it’s a simple choice: sell an alpaca with
high quality wool at home for a couple of hundred dollars if they are lucky or
take it across the border, where it could fetch twice that.
So many alpacas with high quality wool are slipping across the border that
the genetic pool is being watered down and the wool produced in Peru is becoming
Authorities and alpaca experts say the most valuable animals have to stay in
Peru and they fear that if nothing is done to prevent this, the world’s largest
alpaca industry could collapse.
Now they have come up with a modern answer for a world where time often seems
to stand still.
The farmers, some of whom wear traditional bright embroidered clothes, often
live in mud-brick houses with straw roofs. Children in car-tyre sandals huddle
in doorways protecting themselves from the stinging wind and bright sun.
The roads here are barely passable even in the dry season.
Into this environment, Peruvian authorities have brought up-to-the-minute
technology – microchips, which they are inserting into the ears of the finest
alpacas to help keep track of their whereabouts.
“The main problem is contraband and that is directly affecting the producers.
This is why we need to put microchips in these animals and this should allow us
to control the exit of these animals at the border, and identify those that are
registered and not allowed to leave Peru,” said Fabiola Munoz, the general
secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.
In the past, farmers have taken their animals to special commercial zones at
the border, where the trade of alpacas has remained unchecked. Now, these areas
will be fitted with the micro-chip scanners which can read the microchips.
Authorities know this won’t provide an immediate end to the problem. The
borders remain porous and the price of the micro-chips and the scanners is high.
The Ministry of Agriculture says authorities are working with farmers to
convince them of the long-term benefits of keeping their higher quality animals.
This is particularly important in the region of Puno, in southern Peru, which
has 1.6 million alpacas, more than anywhere else in the country. The indigenous
farmers who live here, at around 14,000 feet (4,270 metres) above sea level, are
some of Peru’s poorest.
They speak Quechua and not the Spanish of the government and have been
farming alpacas since the time of the Incas, who gave them their language.
Jose Luis Apaza is head of production at Rural Allianza, the largest alpaca
rearing company in Peru.
“At heights like this, very little else prospers. You can’t really raise
sheep or cows, but we have been raising alpacas since the time of the Incas.
This is the only animal that can provide us with a source of income.”
Companies like Rural Allianza can look to the future, because they have
enough income for the present. But for individual farmers who live a
hand-to-mouth existence, the reality is very different.
Juan Francisco calls out in Quechua to his 60 or so animals as he hustles
them through the brush, underneath a searing sun. He looks about 70, but is
probably only about 50. His features have been wizened by the harsh climate and
a life that earns him and his family about $80 a month.
He doesn’t speak Spanish and doesn’t seem interested in my attempts to ask
him about genetically improved animals.
It’s difficult to see how the government in far away Lima will be able to
convince people like him of the benefits of the micro-chips. He belongs to a
world of ancient customs where modern technology is regarded with