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Vicunas are the spirit and the life blood of the camelid families living in the high Andes. Unfortunately, due to their very valuable fleece vicunas were nearly hunted to extinction by the late l970s. Conservation efforts in Peru, Chile and Argentina have led to a phenomenal resurgence in vicuna populations. Once again, due to careful management, vicunas can be found in healthy numbers in the Andes.

Vicuna Facts

vicuna Vicunas (Vicugna vicugna) are members of the Camelidae family, of which there are three other living members in South America: the wild guanaco (Lama guanacoe), the domestic llama (Lama glama), and the alpaca (Lama pacos).

To view pictures of vicunas, search Google's image database.

vicuna The smallest of all camels, the vicuna weighs about 90 pounds and stands just under three feet at the shoulder.  Like all South American camel species, the vicuna has a long, supple neck; slender legs; padded, cloven feet; large round eyes; and a dense and fine tawny coat.

vicuna The vicuna is a hardy survivor adapted to high altitudes, where drought and freezing nights are the rule.  It is a natural pacer and well designed to travel fast for great distances.  Keen eyesight allows early detection for flights to safety.

vicuna The vicuna is the probable wild progenitor of the domestic alpaca, which was created by selective breeding about 6000 years ago.  Entirely wild, vicunas live in small family groups led by a single territorial male that vigilantly repels rival males and small predators threatening the young.  After 11 months of gestation, vicuna mothers give birth to one baby, known as a cria.

vicuna Vicunas are highly communicative, signaling one another with body postures, ear and tail placement, and numerous other subtle movements.  Their vocalizations include an alarm call -- a high pitched whinny -- that alerts the herd to danger.  They also emit a soft humming sound to signal bonding or greeting and a range of guttural sounds that communicate anger and fear.  "Orgling" is probably their most unique noise.  This male-only, melodic mating sound attracts unbred females.

Eric Hoffman outlines the very successful chacu program that is now underway in Peru in "Vicunas: Bearers of the Golden Fleece" published in Animals Magazine in the May/June l999 issue. Read it!

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