Inside an Alpaca Slaughterhouse

While descending from the village of Sibayo and heading for the Colca region’s central town, Chivay, I struck a conversation up with the driver of an overcrowded minivan. Packed like sardines, we wound our way down into Colca Canyon and the driver began to describe a bit about life in the altiplano, a high altitude plain in Peru and Bolivia. The van was too crowded to pick up any of the other passengers who attempted to hail it down for a ride, so the driver had plenty of uninterrupted time to describe life in the Colca region. He explained that he made his living in two ways; driving the van and raising alpacas.

“One day this car will be done. The alpaca will never be done,” the driver said.

For the people of the altiplano their animals are their livelihood. In contrast to the communities of the canyon who farm for a living, the communities of the altiplano survive by raising alpaca, sheep, and llama. I visited a slaughtering floor in Sibayo and learned how Alpacas are raised, eaten, and processed, but it was the words of the driver that brought the whole experience together. Livestock are a way of life for the altiplano communities, they are their livelihood and tradition, their food and their clothing. These animals mean everything to the people of the altiplano and their significance in the culture and economy is going nowhere anytime soon. The following images are from my visit to the slaughtering floor in Sibayo, Peru.

Eduardo Gonzales, header, shears the hides of alpacas and llamas for the ranchers of the community. The hides will be used to make leather goods and fiber for clothing and blankets. Manta, which means “blanket” in Quechua, are beautifully woven textiles that are used throughout the Andes like backpacks to carry infants, supplies, food, and fertilizer and are integral part of daily life in much of Peru.

Rony Checollo Vilca (above), an alpaquero (alpaca rancher), carries his animals from a holding corral to the slaughter floor. With great care, he and the employees of the floor take the lives of his twenty-three alpacas and two llamas. They slaughter, eviscerate, and skin the animals over the course of a morning. The carcasses are then trucked off to the city of Arequipa, where they would be sold in the central market.

The woman (below, left) is meticulously cleaning out the stomach and intestines of the alpaca. She told me that nothing is wasted, “comemos todo, hasta los huesos” (we eat everything, up to the bone). She empties the gastrointestinal tracts, rinses them thoroughly, and makes packets from each animal bound by its own intestine. These stomach packets are then sold in the market and served either by a street vendor or in the home kitchen. The alpaca products are brought to the markets of Chivay and Arequipa and enable the people of the Altiplano to barter or purchase their needed staples and goods.

Alpaca is delicious, and in this Southern region of the Peruvian Andes, it is one of the most commonly consumed animal proteins. Even the head (above, middle) is used to make a regional dish, Caldo de Cabeza, or head broth. The regional cuisine often uses alpaca meat in place of other animal proteins. For instance, in the Colca region, alpaca is used in place of beef when making lomo saltado, a popular stir fry eaten throughout the country.

The camal, or slaughterhouse, of the village of Sibayo sits above the Colca River. All the blood from the floor drains into the tributary (above, right). The animals’ bungs are removed. The cutters swing the shit-filled bung up and cut them in mid air, emptying the organ of its contents. The bungs are then cleaned and sold. At first glance, eating the anus of an animal seems rather unappealing. However, upon consideration of other culture’s use of the organ — for instance, Italian charcuterie — it no longer seems that odd. Coppa is a very popular cured meat in the US and Italy, and it’s made by stuffing pork meat into a cow bung and hanging it to cure and ferment.

The employees of the slaughtering floor work about three days a week killing and butchering animals for ranchers of the surrounding communities. When the animals are hanging (above), the organs are pulled and placed in buckets to be sold in the market. The heart, the liver, kidneys are all consumed. The carcasses are then hung to dry before being sold in the markets.

The animals are killed, bled, and partially skinned on the floor (above). The head and the hide are pulled from the carcass and hung to dry in the sun. The hides are brought to a nearby location to be sheared. The fibers are hand spun into wool or sold to larger textile manufacturers.

Rony’s five-year old son sits on the stone wall behind his father’s alpaca hides. At his young age, he is exposed to all processes of alpaca ranching. Whether or not the young boy chooses to continue his family tradition of raising livestock, he will be equipped with the skill set and knowledge to do so in a short matter of time.