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Ligonier Township police unraveling alpaca fiber theft

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

Ligonier Township Police are looking for a sticky-fingered spinner.

Police said someone entered an apartment above the former Colonial Inn restaurant off Route 30 West and swiped at least three dozen boxes of alpaca fiber — a pricey, high-quality yarn used to make clothing, accessories and blankets — between June 20 and 28.

Police Chief Michael Matrunics said the owner is offering a $1,000 reward for the return of the fiber.

“It's really a very unique fiber used to make clothes. The yarn can be spun into sweaters or scarves … along the same line as wool, but it's really a very different material, although similar to sheep in that the fiber is shaved off the alpacas, too,” Matrunics said.

According to Melanie Jones of the national Alpalca Owners and Breeders Association, headquartered in Nashville, “alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers.”

The fiber is clipped from the animal without causing it injury.

“It's really much softer and not nearly as scratchy as wool. It is as soft as cashmere, and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool. It comes in more colors than any other fiber, producing approximately 22 basic colors,” Jones said.

“And, unlike wool, it doesn't contain lanolin which a lot of people are allergic to,” she said.

Industry websites estimate the value of alpaca fiber at $2 to $5 an ounce, or up to $80 a pound. Matrunics said the estimated value of the stolen fiber is “a few thousand dollars.”

The stolen fiber was stored in more than three dozen Federal Express boxes, each 14 inches square. The exact weight is not known, Matrunics said.

“The theft wasn't discovered for a few weeks. We're not sure whether the person made several trips and took a few boxes at a time or what,” he said.

Matrunics said he has been in contact with dealers and suppliers familiar with the alpaca fiber market, “and they really haven't heard anything.”

“The owner would really just want the fiber returned,” he said.

Although 99 percent of the world's approximately 3 million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia and Chile, Jones said there are more than 220,000 registered by the association throughout North America.

“And that doesn't even include those that are not registered … raised as pets or kept on a farm as a hobby. Many people don't register them for whatever reason,” Jones said.

Most county fairs in Southwestern Pennsylvania, including Westmoreland's, have added a llama/alpaca category to competitions.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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