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Nic and Linda keep up-to-date with the latest in alpaca information, by reading widely, being a member of the New Zealand, Australian, British and American alpaca associations, and attending conferences worldwide.
They share this knowledge with others through holding industry training days and workshops, writing articles for industry magazines
in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and USA and also through articles on this website
and other websites.
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LATERAL REGISTRY FOR UNREGISTERED ALPACAS -
THE GENETIC RISK
By Nic Cooper Southern Alpacas Stud
First Questions First
Why is an alpaca not
registered and not registerable?
Any alpaca whose parents
are registered can be registered. There are late fees of course – but it is
Which means that
somewhere in the background of those not registerable, there is an ancestor that
for some reason was not, at the time, registered.
This cannot be just
something someone forgot. Because it is always possible to go back and register
and re-create the line. There has to be another reason.
We can think of only 3
The ancestor was deliberately
taken off the registry or not put on because of some known genetic problem.
No A4 was issued because the
mating fee was not paid.
The sire of the unregistered
ancestor was not a certified male and no-one has gone back and done the
certification in retrospect (maybe because the male has subsequently died).
Any other circumstance is
fixable without a lateral registry.
And in cases 1) and 2)
above there is a very good reason why the ancestor was excluded for the registry
- either genetic or commercial. AANZ should not arbitrarily override these
decisions made by the breeder concerned.
Surely case 3) has so few
instances they can be dealt with on individual exception basis.
It is also worth noting
that in 1997 – 4 years after the commencement of the IAR, the registry was
re-opened for the input of NZ foundation animals and all members of AANZ (ALANZ
as it was) were contacted and given the opportunity to enter any and all alpacas
As President at the time, I
handled the process. I know of no breeder who accidentally missed that window of
opportunity. A few chose to miss it. Several followed the instruction not to
register alpacas with genetic fault.
Genetic Risk of
unregistered alpacas and imports from countries without registries.
To start to discuss this
issue, let’s go right back to the start of the alpaca industry in New Zealand,
Australia and USA, in the period 1989 – 1995.
At this time there were no
Alpaca Registries, although there were thoughts about starting them. There were
no disqualifying faults. There was no import screening. And most buyers of
alpacas were naïve about what they were buying.
Basically 3 things happened
then that have taken a long time to sort out in their respective countries. Each
country was slightly different, had slightly different problems, and sorted them
New Zealand - the
Gringo’s are coming!
In 1987 when the first
shipments of alpacas to NZ were being gathered together in Chile by the two main
importers to NZ, the word soon got around the altiplano that there were gringo
alpaca buyers who were buying anything for hard foreign currency.
Because the Chilean sellers
were peasant stock, there was no planned breeding in these animals, and
unfortunately there was quite a lot of in-breeding over generations. Some of the
“alpacas” were actually largely huarizos - llama/alpaca crosses.
It appears the importers
for NZ were buying from villages where in-breeding had developed a penchant for
kinked tails and fused ears. These may or may not have been displayed in the
animals actually selected for NZ, as fused ears can skip a generation. But
these faults became a common occurrence in the next generation to be born in
quarantine, and in NZ.
Australia – the same
Exactly the same happened
with the first Australian shipments (which actually came through NZ and gained
residence here before heading on to Australia).
Except these shipments
seemed to have been sourced from an area where fused toes were common. They thus
became a common feature of the Australian herd.
UK – a more recent event
20 years on, and European
buyers were visiting Peru and Chile to import bulk to UK. A particularly well
fibered older male was found and quickly bought and shipped to UK. No-one was
able to look at progeny, because there were no records showing who his progeny
He was of an excellent
standard, so he was mated across much of the import herd, and had a large
booking list for UK females in his first year in the country.
Then a number of his
offspring (not all) were noticed by breeders – or worse by judges in the
show-ring – to have an additional toe part way up the lower rear leg.
By this time of course his
genes were well through the UK herd and no-one knows whether the mutant gene
lies dormant in his progeny that did not display the trait.
USA – they thought they
had it covered
In 1994 and 1995 a number
of US breeders sourced a number of top males from the accoyo herd in Peru.
Recognising the problems of the past, they put into place a detailed and costly
screening process - both phenotypic and veterinary. This same screening that
has been adopted by most other importing countries in the world.
These males went back to
USA as the venerable ancestors to the US herd.
Some (names we still know)
succeeded. Some failed for fibre or progeny reasons. However a few (about 10%)
started producing cria with genetic fault. Particularly choanal atresia
– which in its full form is invariably fatal.
A cria with CA can either
breathe, or suckle - it cannot do both at once. It is a tragedy to watch their
demise over several days. despite the best of interventions.
Regrettably some larger
breeders having invested heavily in these males, were reluctant to pull the
males from the gene pool, and only did so when public opinion and law suits got
As alpacas spread from the
USA to first Australia and then on to NZ, the incidence of choanal atresia has
first appeared, and then grown, in these two countries. The problem was
imported, despite screening.
Unfortunately at the start
of all these events, the importers and early breeders concerned either failed to
notice, or chose to ignore, the problem. It spread in the national herds.
One of the first to
recognise the problem in NZ and take action was George Davis of AgResearch. They
were one of the major initial suppliers of alpacas within the country. This was
He took the view that these
alpacas carrying or possibly carrying genetic fault could still be useful in the
herd as commercial animals or pets, so they were sold as such – but were sold
cheaply without registration papers. At the time of the big re-opening of the
IAR for NZ animals (1997), George took the view that he would not register
AgResearch alpacas suspected of carrying fault.
Similarly at that time
males were sold as pets – but un-wethered and without registration papers. The
intention was they would never be used as a working male as they had no
registration papers. (There was no compulsory certification at that time).
Forgetting the problem
Unfortunately as time went
by, owners of these non-registered alpacas (bought cheaply) – or more
pertinently, owners of their (sold) offspring – tried to get them registered, as
that allowed them to command a greater price for the alpaca and their offspring.
The Registry always
referred these applicants back to George Davis, and George normally refused to
give permission for Registration.
If the owner had an alpaca
that appeared normal, then this caused acrimony, as there was no clear evidence
that the alpaca had or was carrying an undesirable trait.
The tale of a sad herd
By 2002 a small
breeder (30 or so alpacas) was getting fed up with the bad luck he was having in
birthing, and with deaths and unhealthy cria and adults. He came to us at
Southern Alpacas to see what could be done.
A review of the herd showed
that of his 6 foundation females (all bought from the same source), 1 had fused
ears, and 3 carried the fused ear gene which displayed in later generations.
Because this was a closed
herd (in house matings done) the problem perpetuated and spread across the whole
herd. Interestingly the fault quite regularly skipped generations with those not
displaying the fault, or displaying it in a less severe form, clearly carrying
it on to the next generation.
The breeder became so
disillusioned he left the industry and the alpacas were sold as recipients to
the then burgeoning ET industry.
Whilst many who have
entered the alpaca industry in recent years will not recognise it, the base of
the original NZ alpaca herd
- Had a large llama
- Had a high incidence of
genetic fault that has a tendency to skip generations.
Similarly the import of
alpacas from countries without registries and without sound progeny data and
analysis has allowed other countries genetic problems to enter national herds
across the world.
Over the past 20 years a
great deal has been done by responsible breeders to cull these faults, and the
alpacas carrying them, from the national herd through actual culling, through
cessation of breeding, and through refusal of registration.
It would be a great
shame if the introduction of a lateral registry in NZ allowed these faults
(possibly sitting dormant in the current generation of unregistered alpacas) to
re-enter the registered national herd.
It would also be a great
shame if the door remained open for the genetic faults of countries without
registries to slip through screening on a dormant generation because genetic due
diligence of progeny could not be performed.
This paper was presented to the AANZ AGM in Lincoln June 2009 by Linda
The majority of the 90 people there gave this presentation a favourable
response, either at the time, or in later comments and discussions.
Updated August 2009