Relatives of the Camel
Llamas are relatives of the camel family. Ancient people living in the Andes tamed llamas about 5,000 years ago, since then they have become important animals in Peru. The llamas had an important place in the Inca culture, they were used as transportation, their wool was used for clothing and blankets and their meat for food. Local indigenous people use them the same way as the Incas did.
Llamas weight between 280lbs or 130 k and 450 lbs or 200k and can live from 15 to 25 years. They are social animals and calm in nature. Their hair has a wide range of colors; it can be black, white, red, brown and colors in between, solid or in patters. Llamas have a coarser outer coat unfit for garments and usually used for making rugs and crafts. Their inner coat is finer and used for garments and blankets.
It is believed that alpacas descend from vicuñas. Alpacas were domesticated 5000 years ago by pre-Inca civilizations and they were mainly raised for their meat and fiber. Unlike their use of llamas, the Incas did not use alpacas as transportation because they are too small and frail. Nowadays there are no alpacas in the wild and in Peru they are protected by law. Alpaca fiber is known as a specialty fiber, it is known for its softness and its fine yarn. According to The International Wool Secretariat and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), an Australian organization, over 30% of American consumers claim to be allergic to wool. The textile industry is trying to supply these costumers with a softer and finer alternative making alpaca fiber a popular alternative to wool, however expensive.
Peru has the largest population of vicuñas and it is the national animal of the country. These animals are native of South America, today small populations of vicuñas can be found in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
The vicuña is the smallest of the relatives of the camel, it weights under 150 lbs or 65 kg and it is the ancestor of the alpaca. It is believed that ancient civilizations tried to domesticate it with no success and today they still live in the wild. The vicuña is a very shy animal, any attempt to get close to it will scare it away. Their bodies are specially adapted to high altitudes of the Andean mountains, they live at a level of 3,200 to 4,800 meters/ above sea level; their thick coat help them insulate their bodies from freezing temperatures. Since Inca times the fiber produced by vicuñas has been valued for its softness and warmth. The Incas used its wool to make garments only for the royalty. Vicuñas produce a very small amount of wool and can be shorn every three years. Since the 1970s the vicuña is a protected species in Peru and its population has greatly recovered. International prices for vicuña yarn range from $2,000 to $3000 per yard depending on its quality.
Pre-Columbian cultures tried to domesticate the guanaco but had no success. Guanacos look very similar to their cousins the vicuñas. The difference is in its size, coat, behavior and shape of its body. The guanacos weight twice as much as the vicuñas, usually around 220lbs or 100 k to 300lbs or 140k. Its wool is longer than the vicuña’s but shorter than the alpaca’s and their yarn is highly valued. Southern Peruvian guanacos are known for its reddish color coat. The population of guanacos is distributed along the southern Andean highlands up to the Patagonia. Their thick coats protect their bodies from the freezing temperatures. They are classified as an endangered species in Peru due to the high demand for its fur and they live in protected areas such as Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Park in Peru. Hunting and poaching is prohibited by law.