Alessandro Cinque

Freelance Photojournalist

Alpaqueros

CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS EFFECTS ON ALPACA CULTURE IN PERU.

Peru is home to the world’s largest number of alpacas. The country has approximately 4 million alpacas, which is roughly 70% of the global total. Alpacas are reared in high-altitude regions in Peru, generally above 3,000 mt. The animals play a critical role in communities along the high Andean plateau where crops cannot be grown and the only economic activity, besides mining, is alpaca herding. More than 1 million people, in a country of 31 million people, depend exclusively on alpacas for their livelihoods. Climate change poses a growing risk to alpacas and the communities they sustain. The Andes are experiencing shorter, but more intense, rainy seasons, and longer periods of drought. Frosts and hail storms have become more common. Changing weather patterns are shrinking natural pastures and reducing the quality of grasses, forcing alpaca herds to compete for food. While alpacas survive at lower altitudes, they are more susceptible to disease and their fleece grows coarse, reducing its commercial value. A looming impact is the loss of glacier coverage. Glacier runoff helps regulate water during the dry season, so the loss of glaciers means less water during the dry season. According to the National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (Inaigem), Peru already has lost 53.5 percent of its glacier coverage and could be without glaciers by 2100. Peru has the world’s highest percentage in the world of what are known as tropical glaciers. Sixto Flores, a technical advisor to alpaca communities in Puno, said if pastures disappear, alpacas and alpaca-herding communities disappear with them. This project aims to investigate how climate change in Peru affects Alpaca breeders by creating "climate migrants" who are forced to move to higher and higher altitudes or abandon their lifestyle and move to low-lying cities, changing their lives forever.