Vicuña in Bolivia

Vicuña in Bolivia

The vicuña is considered more delicate and graceful than the guanaco and smaller. A key distinguishing element of morphology is the better-developed incisor roots to the guanaco. The vicuña’s long, woolly coat is tawny brown on the back, whereas the hair on the throat and chest is white and quite long. The head is a bit shorter than the guanaco’s and the ears are slightly longer. The length of mind and body ranges from 1.45 to 1.60 m (about 5 ft); shoulder height is from 75 to 85 cm (around 3 ft); its weight is from 35 to 65 kg (under 150 lb).

It’s a relative of the llama and is currently thought to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is extremely expensive because the animal can only be shorn every 3 decades, and has to be caught from the wild. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña’s wool is very soft and warm. The Inca valued vicuñas tremendously for their wool, and it was against the law for anybody but royalty to wear vicuña garments; now the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears in the Peruvian coat of arms.

Both under the rule of the Inca and now, vicuñas have been protected by legislation, but they were heavily hunted in the intervening period. These days, the vicuña population has recovered to about 350,000, and although conservation organizations have reduced its level of threat classification, they still call for active conservation programs to protect inhabitants from poaching, habitat loss, and other dangers.

Until recently, the vicuña was thought to not have been domesticated, as well as the llama and the alpaca were considered descendants of the closely related guanaco. But recent DNA studies have shown the alpaca may well have vicuña parentage. Today, the vicuña is largely wild, but the regional people still perform particular rituals with these animals, including a fertility rite.

Have you seen Vicuña?

CategoryWildlife
ExposureAuto exposure, 1/60 sec, f/8, ISO 100
CameraNikon D5100
LensNikkor 28mm
FilterPolarizer
LocationSalar de Uyuni, Bolivia


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