Monday, December 19, 2011

The Vicuña

A wild ancestor to llamas and alpacas, the vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) is one of two South American camelids that has never been widely domesticated, with the other being the guanaco. Vicuñas are native to the central Andes of Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina.
Vicuñas are considerably smaller than most camelids. On average they stand about three feet high at the shoulders and weigh 100-150lbs. Unlike alpacas, vicuñas do not vary much in coat color, and are usually light brown on their backs with longer white fur covering their necks and undersides.

Vicuñas typically live in family groups consisting of 5-20 animals. This includes a single adult male, several adult females and their young. Most family groups live in two territories, a daytime grazing area, usually in lowlands with nutrient-rich grasses, and a nighttime sleeping area higher up in the mountains. The dominant male in these groups never allows family members to venture farther than 200 feet from one another at any time.
Though vicuñas do face natural threats from pumas and foxes, their largest threat comes from humans. Unrestricted hunting from the time of the Spanish conquests through the 1960’s had reduced the vicuña population to only about 6,000 individuals. They were declared endangered in 1974; since then, conservation efforts have allowed the vicuña population to soar to a current level of 350,000.

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