Species profile

Name: the vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) is one of two wild South American camelids which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes. The other is the guanaco. Both species are closely related to domesticated llamas and alpacas. Guanacos were thought to be the parent species of llamas and alpacas but DNA research has shown that vicuna are the most likely ancestor.

Appearance: vicuna are more delicate and graceful than guanacos. Their long, woolly coats are tawny brown on the back with white hair on their chests. Their heads are slightly shorter than guanacos’ and their ears are slightly longer.

Size: they range from 1.5 to 1.6 metres long and weigh between 35 to 65 kg.

Diet: their diet mainly consists of grasses although they also lick rocks that are rich in salt, as well as drinking salt water.

Did you know: vicunas produce a fine wool which is extremely expensive because they can only be shorn every three years. They also have to be caught from the wild as they are not domesticated like llamas or alpacas.  The Inca valued vicunas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear it. The vicuna was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young woman who received a coat of pure gold when she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Today the vicuna is the national animal of Peru and appears in the Peruvian coat of arms. Both under the Inca and today, vicunas have been protected by law, but they were hunted in the intervening period. They were declared endangered in 1974 with only around 6,000 animals left. Today, the vicuna population has recovered to around 350,000.

Location: vicunas live at altitudes of 3,200 to 4,800 metres. They are native to the central Andes in South America and can be found in Peru, north western Argentina, Bolivia, and northern Chile.

best places to see vicuna

According to reports submitted to WildSide, the best places to see vicuna are as follows:

Place Chance to see User rating No. reports
Salar de Uyuni
very high
very good
Colca Canyon
very good

Photo credit: jovanel under a Creative Commons license from Pixabay

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