- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Although they’re just seen as a silly-looking animal that resembles a llama to some, alpacas are vital to many Peruvians whose livelihoods depend on selling the animal’s precious fur.

But a recent loss of grazing land in Peru caused by colder winters is putting the mini llama look-alikes, and the families who rely on them, at risk. About 286,000 alpacas have died annually in recent years due to the lack of food.

Core Foundation, a Purdue Research Park-based company that seeks to bring technology and education to South American communities in need, is trying to save the declining animals with a soil mapping technology created by the Purdue-affiliated startup AgSoil Analytics. The technology helps farmers determine the best places to grow nutritious grass for the alpacas, which in turn produces quality fiber.

“The fiber is the only thing (the farmers) have to survive because they sell the fiber and with that money they buy food for their kids and they can have enough money to buy books or so (their kids) can go to school,” said Ricardo Torreblanca, founder of Core Foundation.

Torreblanca, who is originally from Peru, was first made aware of the problem by nonprofit organization Soluciones Prácticas when he was working on a satellite mapping project in the country last year.

He was instantly interested in the issue and saw farmers who were affected by the loss of alpacas. Some people had to move from their homes in the Andes Mountains to the closest cities because they could no longer afford to raise the animals while providing for their families, he said.

Peru had nearly 3.7 million alpacas in 2012, 99 percent of which were cared for by small breeders, according to the Ministry of Agriculture of Peru.

The farmers don’t use technology or machinery to plant seeds so they aren’t aware of how to best use their land to ensure alpacas receive adequate nutrition, Torreblanca said.

The tool is expected to impact 3 million people in the project’s first year, he said.

For another related project, Torreblanca is searching for people interested in helping his team count alpacas in regions of Peru where the species is most abundant before its winter season begins in June. He said an updated count on alpacas and their mortality rates will help guide their next steps.

“What we want is just to have the help of the people on this matter. It’s a really big problem and these animals are dying every year in big numbers. It’s heartbreaking,” Torreblanca said, adding that the harsh cold has also taken a deadly toll on children in the Andes.

“The best way for us to help will be to help the alpacas and just be sure that they don’t die so (farmers) will have a way to work and help their families,” he said.

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Source: (Lafayette) Journal-Gazette, https://on.jconline.com/1TUL7MG

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Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com


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