What is a SURI Alpaca?
The word "suri" appears to have originated from the South American Aymara language. According to world-renowned alpaca expert Dr. Julio Sumar, “suri” refers to the lustrous quality exhibited by the silky feathers of the lesser rhea - a flightless, ostrich like bird found living on the Patagonian steppes on Andean puna (vast grassland on the high plain).
It is known from archaeological records that alpacas have been domesticated for 6,000 years yet much of the suri’s origins is a mystery. The suri appears as a distinct breed in pre-Colonial textiles, pottery, and jewelry. And early depictions of suri alpacas dating from between 5 and 20 thousand years ago can only be found on the western slopes of the Andes mountains in Peru. Due to their slightly more sensitive reaction to the cold (as compared to huacayas), there is some argument that they were developed in lowland (possibly coastal) pastures prior to the Conquest. However, archeological discoveries of pre-Conquest alpaca mummies, found in the highlands, point to the fact that there is very little scientific evidence as to the actual origin of the suri.
The suri alpaca is distinguished apart from the huacaya by its unique fiber characteristics. The suri’s long fiber grows down along the body, hanging in long, separate, distinctive locks. These individual locks are made up of lustrous fibers which drape down the side of the body in a twisted or flat structure of different proportions called “penciling”. The gentle draping of the fiber gives the suri a graceful appearance compared to the soft, woolly look of the huacaya alpaca.
Suri alpacas were first brought to the United States in 1991. Importations have brought suri alpacas from Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, giving U.S. breeders access to genetic material from all three countries in South America that produce suri alpacas.
As of August, 2010, there are slightly more than 38,000 suris of the 202,000+ alpacas registered in the U.S. (approximately 19%). World wide, the ARI registered suri population is slightly less at 15%.