<p>Alina Surquislla Gomez, a third-generation <em>alpaquera </em>(alpaca-farmer), cradles a baby alpaca on the way to her family&rsquo;s summer pastures, in Oropesa, Peru. The climate crisis is forcing herders, many of whom are women, to search for new pastures, often in difficult terrain.</p>
2023 Photo Contest, South America, Stories



Alessandro Cinque

Pulitzer Center/National Geographic
03 May, 2021

Alina Surquislla Gomez, a third-generation alpaquera (alpaca-farmer), cradles a baby alpaca on the way to her family’s summer pastures, in Oropesa, Peru. The climate crisis is forcing herders, many of whom are women, to search for new pastures, often in difficult terrain.

Vital to the livelihoods of many people in the Peruvian Andes, alpacas face new challenges due to the climate crisis. 

Part of the camelid family, alpacas can endure the high altitudes of the Andes and are a critical source of income for farmers in an environment where few or no crops can be cultivated. They are primarily bred for their fine fiber (wool), which is highly prized for knitwear and woven cloth. Tens of thousands of Andean families depend on raising alpacas or dealing in their fiber for subsistence. Among local Indigenous communities such as the Quechua, alpacas are also embedded in cultural and ritual life.

The climate crisis is putting alpacas and the communities they sustain at risk. Shorter rainy seasons and more intense, longer periods of drought are shrinking natural pastures and reducing the quality of the grass on which alpacas feed. In addition, meltwater from Peru’s glaciers, which supports high meadows during the long dry season, is declining rapidly. Peruvian glaciers retreated by 53 percent between 1962 and 2016.

These challenges threaten not only the alpacas, but the loss of high-Andean cultural identity, as alpaquero (alpaca-farmer) communities are forced to move to even greater altitudes, or to abandon their lifestyles entirely and seek work in low-lying cities. Scientists hope to help address the problem using biotechnology to create alpaca breeds more resistant to extremes in temperature. This would help the animals to survive harsh nights at higher altitudes, as well as thrive at lower elevations, since alpacas also suffer in warmer temperatures, from illnesses not present in highland areas.

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Alessandro Cinque
About the photographer

Alessandro Cinque (b. 1988) is a photojournalist based in Lima, Peru, whose work explores environmental and socio-political issues in Latin America, particularly the devastating impact of mining on Indigenous Quechua communities and their lands.  Through his work, Cinque documents environmental contamination an...

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Jury comment

This story is a great example of solutions-based journalism, telling a story about the climate crisis from a fresh angle. The photographer captures a multilayered story and balances narratives about loss and preservation. The jury was impressed by how the story narrates the relationship between people, culture and identity and demonstrates how they are deeply tied to all aspects of the changing environment and the animals living in it. The project is beautifully photographed, full of humor, and provides the perfect amount of information. Moreover, it is a perfect edit from start to finish as each frame is relevant and meaningful to the story, allowing the viewer to become invested.