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 user 2005-04-03 at 12:39:00 pm Views: 87
  • #29082
    Microchips to guard Peruvian alpacas
    High 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.

    Gene pool

    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
    less valuable.

    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.

    Ancient habits

    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