Wicklow man Joe Phelan sought a new business venture when his four children flew the nest. The was when K2Alpacas - one of Ireland’s largest and best-known alpaca farms was born. Joe publishes a weekly update on That’s Farming - here is his next submission
The Chaccu was one event this writer was really looking forward to. The Chaucca goes back to Inca times and probably further and is usually held in November / December but for us Gringos, they held one early on the first day of the Alpaca Fiesta 2018.
The Chaccu is where the wild Vicunas are rounded-up annually for shearing; each Vicuna is shorn every second year.
Vicuna are the direct relative to the alpaca. Alpacas are thought to have evolved from Vicuna that were tamed as livestock animals. Alpacas have been domesticated for over 6000 years.
Vicuna is the most valuable natural fibre in the world and it was this factor that brought them to the edge of extinction. Vicuna's fibre was so valuable that they were being shot for their fibre. Their numbers dropped to as few as 4000 in the 1970’s.
The Government and a number of interested parties set about saving the Vicuna. They re-introduced the ancient Chaccu custom, a system where all the locals involved received some benefit from the sale of fibre.
Numbers grew as locals could see the annual benefit of being involved in the Chaccu and they protected the Vicuna against poachers.
Numbers grew and eventually when the numbers reached 200,000 they were taken off the endangered species list. They are still closely monitored and protected and there are now over 350,000 Vicunas mainly in Peru.
They live high up in the Andes on the Altiplano it was two-and-half hours into our trip and at over 13,000 ft when we spotted our first Vicuna, they looked like balls of gold on slender legs. These delicate and slight looking animals look so beautiful.
The Chaccu site was at 14,532 ft, my few days in Cusco the previous week stood to me and I handled the altitude well, some of our group who had just arrived into Peru the day before did not fare so well and required assistance and oxygen.
The locals had started the Chaccu at 2am in the morning, so by the time we arrived they were already 6 hours in.
They herd the Vicunas by forming a human chain and using long ropes with coloured ribbons to drive them along in front of them. They are driven into a funnel & catch pens.
Yearlings and those that were shorn last year were separated. Before shearing, a local Sharman (wise man) conducts a ceremony thanking Inti for the gift of Vicuna. They then take 3 vicunas; 2 female and on male and conduct a fertility ceremony.
The Vicunas are handled with respect and only the blanket is removed. The shearing process takes no more than 1 minute. Once shorn they are released with the least amount of stress.
To feel Vicuna is incredible, think of the best Baby Alpaca only finer. Vicuna Fibre is the most expensive natural fibre in the world. A week later I came across a Vicuna Scarf in a store in Cusco for US$4500; I took a peek at a shawl and thought it was reasonable at US$9850
The Chaccu is an unforgettable experience and one of the highlights of this writer’s trip.