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.
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).
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 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 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.
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.