dcsimg

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 31.6 years (captivity)
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Some natives of the Andes and the Aymara still worship the vicuna as a daughter of the fertility goddess Pachamama (Grizmek, 1990).

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Behavior

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Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Conservation Status

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The vicuna is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, and as endangered by the USDI. During the period of the Incas, the total population reached 1.5 million. With the fall of the empire, the number dropped dramatically due to massive slaughter by the conquerors and the settlers. By 1960, the number decreased to only 6,000. Recent efforts of establishing national parks and organizations for protection of vicunas have brought the population back up to 125,000. About half of this number live at the Pampas Galeras National Vicuna Reserve in Peru. Nowak (1991), Grzimek (1990).

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Benefits

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Competition with domestic livestock.

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Benefits

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In the past, vicunas were an important source of wool and meat. At the time of the Incas, vicunas were captured, shorn and released into the wild again. During 19th and 20th century, there was a huge commercial demand for the wool. Recent law only permits use of wool shorn from a living vicuna. Nowak (1991), Grizmek (1990).

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Trophic Strategy

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The vicuna is strictly a grazer. Its diet consist of mostly short perennial grasses. The incisors are specially adapted to its diet. They are large and continuously growing as in rodents. The young often graze while lying down. Both young and adults chew cud when they are at rest. Unlike most other camelids, the vicuna requires daily intake of water. Therefore, when selecting a territory, it searches an area with favorable watering sites. The average feeding range is 184ha. Nowak (1991), Grizmek (1990), MacDonald (1984).

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Distribution

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The current range of the vicuna lies in the Andes of southern Peru, western Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, and northern Chile (Nowak, 1991).

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

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Habitat

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Vicunas are found in semiarid rolling grasslands and plains at altitudes of 3,500-5,750 meters. These lands are covered with short and tough vegetation. Due to their daily water demands, vicunas live in areas where water is readily accessible. Climate in the habitat is usually dry and cold. Nowak (1991), Grizmek (1990).

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

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Life Expectancy

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Average lifespan
Status: wild:
20.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
24.8 years.

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Morphology

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The vicuna is the smallest living species among the family Camelidae. Head and body length is 1,250-1,900 mm, tail length is 150-250mm, and shoulder height is 700-1,100mm. A slender body and relatively long neck and limbs give a vicuna an elegant appearance. The ears are long, pointed, and narrow. The head is round and yellowish to red-brown in color. The long neck has yellowish red bib. The underside and inner parts of the flanks are dirty white. A strange mane, 20-30cm long, with silky-white hair adorns the chest. Overall, the pelage is uniform and soft. Compared to the similar-looking Lama guanicoe, the vicuna is one fourth the size, its body is paler, and it lacks callosities on the inner sides of the forelimbs. Relative weight of the brain is greater than that of the guanaco. Among living artiodactyls, vicunas have unique, rodent-like incisors that are covered with enamel on only one side. Features believed to be adaptations to high altitudes include a large heart, specialized blood cells with hemoglobin of greater affinty for oxygen, and a weight that is 50 percent heavier than other mammals of the same size. Vision and hearing is good, although the former is far more developed. Olfaction is fairly poor. Nowak (1991), Grizmek (1990).

Range mass: 35 to 65 kg.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Reproduction

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Mating begins in March and April. They mate while lying down on their chests, and copulation lasts 10-20 minutes. After 330-350 days of gestation period, a female gives birth to a single offspring of 4-6 kg in February and March. The female gives birth in a standing position, and it neither licks nor eats the afterbirth. The mother mates soon after giving birth. The young is mobile after just 15 minutes at birth. It remains close aside its mother for at least 8 months. It continues to suckle until it reaches 10 months. Young females at this stage are expelled from the herd by the dominant male. For young males, this happens at 4-9 months. Expelled females are usually accepted into another group. Females are capable of mating when they reach 2 years. Some are still reproductively active at 19 years. Vicunas in the wild live up to 15-20 years. In captivity, an individual was reported to have lived 24 years. MacDonald (1984), Nowak (1991), Grizmek (1990).

Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual

Average birth mass: 5740 g.

Average gestation period: 340 days.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male:
730 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
730 days.

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Kim, D. 1999. "Vicugna vicugna" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vicugna_vicugna.html
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Biology

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Social organization in vicuna is characterized by the existence of family groups, bachelor groups and solitary males (13). In family groups a single dominant male leads a group of females and juveniles numbering up to ten individuals. He marks out two territories from which he drives other males away. The feeding territory is the larger of the two, with the separate sleeping territory found at a higher altitude. Vicuna undergo daily migrations, spending the night and early morning on dry slopes and then descending to the grassland and marshes to graze before returning to the slopes in the late afternoon (14). Vicuna feed on short grasses, tearing at them with teeth that grow continuously, as in rodents (2). Steep slopes are used by the vicuna in order to escape from some predators (13). When threatened, the dominant male gives a whistling alarm call and places himself between the herd and the danger. Vicuna can run at up to 50 kilometres an hour and their movement is surprisingly graceful (2). During the breeding season, which varies depending on the region (9), the dominant male mates with all the mature females in his herd. Gestation lasts from 330 to 350 days, resulting in the birth of a single calf. The calf is on its feet just 15 minutes after birth, but remains with its mother for four to nine months if male and eight to ten months if female. Non-dominant males become either solitary or join large bachelor herds (2). They are sexually mature by two years (2).
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Conservation

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Standing at two million individuals during the time of the Incas, vicuna were a common species (16). Since the Spanish conquest, massive numbers of vicuna are thought to have been slaughtered. By 1960, the population had been reduced to around 10,000, but international and national conservation efforts has resulted in an increase in the population to nearly 200,000 animals in less than 30 years (10) (11) (16). In 1969, the five countries with vicuna signed an agreement called the Convention of Vicuña (Convenio para la Conservación de la Vicuña) where they committed themselves to create rules and regulations in order to stop vicuna hunting activities. A network of protected areas for vicuna was created across the different countries and each government developed an Action Plan for their conservation. (16). In 1979, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia signed a new Convention for the Conservation and Management of the Vicuña, and Andean communities, who had been paying the cost for vicuna conservation, were named as the main beneficiaries of vicuna use (16). . Different management occurs in different countries, for example, Bolivia supports community-based management, capturing, shearing and releasing wild vicuna with the participation of local communities, whereas Argentina promotes the management of captive vicuna; however, this seems to have a negative effect on vicuna in the wild (18). Management of vicuna will only be successful if based on sound scientific information and proper enforcement (9) (10).
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Description

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The smallest member of the camelid family, the vicuna is thought to be the wild ancestor of the alpaca (8). With large, forward-facing eyes on a small, wedge-shaped head and sharply triangular ears, the vicuna looks endearing. It has a long neck and legs, and walks on the soles of its feet, rather than just the toes, to gain better grip on rocks and gravel (2), and minimise erosion of the fragile soil of its habitat (9). The head varies from yellow to reddish-brown in colour, blending into a pale orange neck. A silky, white mane with fur up to 30 centimetres long covers the chest area, but the fur on the remainder of the body is soft and uniform in length. The back is pale brown and the underside and inner parts of the flanks are dirty white (2).
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Habitat

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The vicuna inhabits mountainous areas at altitudes above 3,200 metres (12), where it grazes on the short and tough vegetation of the semi-arid rolling grasslands, plains and marshes known as “puna” or “antiplano” (10). The climate is dry and hot during the day but cold at night; vicuna must live near water due to their daily water demands (2).
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Range

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Found in the Andes of southern Peru, western Bolivia, north-western Argentina, and northern Chile (2) (10). It was introduced into Ecuador in 1988 with the help of Peru, Chile and Bolivia who all donated individuals from their own stock (11).
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Status

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The vicuna is classified as Lower Risk / Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendices I and II of CITES (4), and Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention), except for the Peruvian populations which are listed on Appendix II (5). It is also listed as Threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (6) (7). Subspecies: There are two subspecies: Vicugna vicugna vicugna and Vicugna vicugna mensalis, both classified as Lower Risk / Conservation Dependent (LR/cd) on the IUCN Red List (1).
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Threats

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During the period of the Incas, vicuna were caught to be sheared and were then released. Subsequently, demand for their valuable wool has been high and excessive hunting caused a massive decrease in populations, with numbers reaching an all time low in the 1960s (15). Since then, a number of conservation initiatives have been implemented and numbers are recovering. However, there are still a number of threats (10). Local people in the region, which consider vicuna as competitors of domestic livestock, do not tolerate their presence and may be a highly significant factor influencing vicuna distribution (15) (16). Poaching still takes place, and vicuna fibre and products are smuggled in large quantities to Europe or Asia (9). Habitat loss, either through over-grazing by domestic livestock or as a result of human activities, such as mining and pollution of water sources, poses a further threat and it is thought that climate change may have a damaging effect on the delicate ecosystem the vicuna inhabits (17). A new potential threat, both in the Andes and worldwide, is the breeding of pacovicuña (an alpaca and vicuna hybrid) for commercial purposes (9) (10).
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Vicugna

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Vicuna is the smallest species of the four South American camelids. Barely a meter high. It inhabits the plains of the high Andes, at an elevation of 3.000 meters above sea level. Its natural distribution extends from Ecuador to northern Chile and Argentina. In Chile this species is protected by legislation and hunting is prohibited.

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Brief Summary

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The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) is found in the Andes of southern Peru, western Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, and northern Chile. At one time it may have occurred as far north as Ecuador. Vicuña inhabit semi-arid rolling grasslands and plains at elevations of 3,500 to 5,750 m. These strikingly graceful animals are able to run at 47 km/hr at an elevation of 4,500 m. They are highly visually oriented animals. (Nowak 1991 and references therein)

The vicuña's head and body length is 1250 to 1900 mm, tail length is 150 to 250 mm, and shoulder height is 700 to 1100 mm. Vicuña range from around 35 to 65 kg. The upperparts are tawny brown, with paler underparts and a white or yellowish red bib on the lower neck and chest. In general form, a vicuña resembles a guanaco (Llama guanicoe), but the vicuña is around 25% smaller, is paler, and lacks both the guanaco's dark face and its callosities ("bumps") on the inner sides of the forelimbs. The lower incisor teeth are unique among living artiodactyls (even-toed hoofed mammals) in that, like rodent teeth, they do not stop growing, with enamel on only one side. (Nowak 1991 and references therein)

The Incas reportedly periodically rounded up vicuña, harvested their wool, and released them, but after the destruction of the Incan Empire vicuña were slaughtered in large numbers for wool and meat. By 1965, their numbers had plummeted to an estimated 6000, but conservation efforts have since allowed significant recovery. (Nowak 1991 and references therein)

The vicuña is one of four South American camelids (mammals in the camel family) recognized today, two of which are wild species, the vicuña and guanaco, and two of which are domesticated forms, the alpaca (Lama pacos) and the llama (Lama glama). Wild vicuña and guanaco diverged from a shared ancestor two to three million years ago. (Wheeler 1995). At one time it was widely believed that both the domestic alpaca and the llama were derived from guanacos. However, in light of new archaeozoological evidence from 6000 to 7000 years ago in the central Peruvian Andes linking alpaca origins to the vicuña, Kadwell et al. (2001) investigated the origins of these domesticated forms using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers. Their results supported the hypothesis that the alpaca is derived from the vicuña (and confirmed the hypothesis that the llama is derived from the guanaco), although this work also revealed genetic evidence of historical hybridization and gene flow (at least among domesticated forms). Chromosomal analyses have also indicated that the llama was derived from the guanaco and the alpaca from the vicuña (Marín et al. 2007). Given the well established divergence between the guanaco and vicuña, many authors suggest that the correct name for the alpaca is therefore Vicugna pacos (Kadwell et al. 2001; Marín et al. 2007).

Like the alpaca, the vicuña is strictly a grazer (the guanaco and llama both graze and browse) (Nowak 1991 and references therein).

Di Rocco et al. (2010) published a comparative analysis of the complete mitochondrial genome of the guanaco and the mitochondrial coding sequence of the vicuña.

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Vicuña

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The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) or vicuna[2] (both /vɪˈknjə/, very rarely spelled vicugna, its genus name)[3][4] is one of the two wild South American camelids, which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes, the other being the guanaco, which lives at lower elevations. Vicuñas are relatives of the llama, and are now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years 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 highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments; today, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears on the Peruvian coat of arms.

Both under the rule of the Inca and today, vicuñas have been protected by law, but they were heavily hunted in the intervening period. At the time they were declared endangered in 1974, only about 6,000 animals were left. Today, the vicuña population has recovered to about 350,000,[1] and although conservation organizations have reduced its level of threat classification, they still call for active conservation programs to protect populations from poaching, habitat loss, and other threats.

Previously the vicuña was thought not to have been domesticated, and the llama and the alpaca were both regarded as descendants of the closely related guanaco. But DNA research published in 2001 has shown the alpaca may well have vicuña parentage.[5] Today, the vicuña is mainly wild, but the local people still perform special rituals with these creatures, including a fertility rite.

Description

The vicuña is considered more delicate and gracile than the guanaco, and smaller. A key distinguishing element of morphology is the better-developed incisor roots for the guanaco.[6] 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 slightly shorter than the guanaco's and the ears are slightly longer. The length of head 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 falls prey to the puma and culpeo, a South American fox.

To prevent poaching, a round-up is held every year, and all vicuñas with fur longer than 2.5 cm are shorn.

Subspecies

  • Vicugna vicugna vicugna
  • Vicugna vicugna mensalis

Distribution and habitat

Vicuñas are native to the central Andes in South America. They are found in Peru, northwestern Argentina, Bolivia, and northern Chile. A smaller, introduced population lives in central Ecuador.[1]

Vicuñas live at altitudes of 3,200 to 4,800 m (10,500–15,700 ft).[1] They feed in daytime on the grassy plains of the Andes Mountains, but spend the nights on the slopes. In these areas, only nutrient-poor, tough, bunch grasses and Festuca grow. The sun's rays are able to penetrate the thin atmosphere, producing relatively warm temperatures during the day; however, the temperatures drop to freezing at night. The vicuña's thick but soft coat is a special adaptation which traps layers of warm air close to its body, so it can tolerate freezing temperatures.

Chief predators include pumas and the andean wild dog.

Behavior

 src=
Herd of vicuñas near Arequipa, Peru

The behavior of vicuñas is similar to that of the guanacos. They are very shy animals, and are easily aroused by intruders, due, among other things, to their extraordinary hearing. Like the guanacos, they frequently lick calcareous stones and rocks, which are rich in salt, and also drink salt water.[7] Their diets consist mainly of low grasses which grow in clumps on the ground.

Vicuñas live in family-based groups made up of a male, five to 15 females, and their young. Each group has its own territory of about 18 km2, which can fluctuate depending on the availability of food.

Mating usually occurs in March–April, and after a gestation period of about 11 months, the female gives birth to a single fawn, which is nursed for about 10 months. The fawn becomes independent at about 12 to 18 months old. Young males form bachelor groups and the young females search for a sorority to join. This deters intraspecific competition and inbreeding.

Conservation

 src=
Vicuña near Chimborazo in Ecuador

From the period of Spanish conquest to 1964, hunting of the vicuña was unrestricted, which reduced its numbers to only 6,000 in the 1960s. As a result, the species was declared endangered in 1974, and its status prohibited the trade of vicuña wool. In Peru, during 1964–1966, the Servicio Forestal y de Caza in cooperation with the US Peace Corps, Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and the National Agrarian University of La Molina established a nature conservatory for the vicuña called the Pampa Galeras – Barbara D'Achille in Lucanas Province, Ayacucho. During that time, a game warden academy was held in Nazca, where eight men from Peru and six from Bolivia were trained to protect the vicuña from poaching. The estimated population in Peru increased from 6,000 to 75,000 with protection by game wardens. Currently, the community of Lucanas conducts a chaccu (herding, capturing, and shearing) on the reserve each year to harvest the wool, organized by the National Council for South American Camelids (CONACS).

The wool is sold on the world market for over $300 per kg, to help support the community. In Bolivia, the Ulla Ulla National Reserve was founded in 1977 partly as a sanctuary for the species. Their numbers grew to 125,000 in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. Since this was a ready "cash crop" for community members, the countries relaxed regulations on vicuña wool in 1993, enabling its trade once again. While the population levels have recovered to a healthy level, poaching remains a constant threat, as do habitat loss and other threats. Consequently, the IUCN still supports active conservation programs to protect vicuñas, though they lowered their status to least concern.[1] The US Fish and Wildlife Service has reclassified most populations as threatened, but still lists Ecuador's population as endangered.[8]

Vicuña wool

The wool is popular due to its warmth, and is used for apparel such as socks, sweaters, accessories, shawls, coats, and suits, and home furnishings such as blankets and throws. Its properties come from the tiny scales on the hollow, air-filled fibres. It causes them to interlock and trap insulating air. Vicuñas have some of the finest fibers in the world, at a diameter of 12 μm. The fiber of cashmere goats is 14 to 19 μm, while angora rabbit is 8 to 12 μm and that of shahtoosh from the Tibetan antelope, or chiru, is from 9 to 12 μm.[9] Since it is sensitive to chemical treatment, the wool is usually left in its natural color.

The vicuña only produces about 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) of wool a year, and gathering it requires a certain process. During the time of the Incas, vicuña wool was gathered by means of communal efforts called chacu, in which multitudes of people herded hundreds of thousands of vicuña into previously laid funnel traps. The animals were shorn and then released; this was only done once every four years. The vicuña was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Because of this, it was against the law for anyone to kill a vicuña or wear its fleece, except for Inca royalty.

At present, the Peruvian government has a labeling system that identifies all garments that have been created through a government-sanctioned chacu. This guarantees that the animal was captured, shorn alive, returned to the wild, and cannot be shorn again for another two years. The program also ensures that a large portion of the profits return to the villagers. However, annually, up to 22,500 kg of vicuña wool are exported as a result of illegal activities. Because of this, some countries have banned the importation of the wool to save the animal. There is a limited but growing trend to commercially produce wool from vicuñas in captivity, with growing herds in the Chilean Andes. Biologist Cristian Bonacic has expressed his concern about the possibility of habitat damage and the transmission of disease in the farms.[10]

As of June 2007, prices for vicuña fabrics can range from US$1,800 to US$3,000 per yard. A vicuña wool scarf costs around US$1,500. A vicuña sport coat from the Italian tailoring house Kiton cost at least US$21,000 in 2013.[11]

Gallery

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Acebes, P.; Wheeler, J.; Baldo, J.; Tuppia, P.; Lichtenstein, G.; Hoces, D.; Franklin, W.L. (2018). "Vicugna vicugna (errata version published in 2019)". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22956A145360542. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  2. ^ The spelling vicuña is not even mentioned in some dictionaries, for example the Macmillan Dictionary
  3. ^ The spelling vicugna is so rare in English that it is not even mentioned in the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia or any major dictionary, including the American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Oxford Living Dictionaries, Random House Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary, and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
  4. ^ Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M., eds. (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  5. ^ Wheeler, Dr Jane; Kadwell, Miranda; Fernandez, Matilde; Stanley, Helen F.; Baldi, Ricardo; Rosadio, Raul; Bruford, Michael W. (December 2001). "Genetic analysis reveals the wild ancestors of the llama and the alpaca". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 268 (1485): 2575–2584. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1774. PMC 1088918. PMID 11749713. 0962-8452 (Paper), 1471-2954 (Online).
  6. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (7 December 2008). Strömberg, N. (ed.). "Guanaco: Lama guanicoe". GlobalTwitcher.com. GlobalTwitcher. Archived from the original on 4 March 2011.
  7. ^ Schuhmacher, Eugen (1 January 1968). The last of the wild: on the track of rare animals. Collins. p. 304.
  8. ^ "Species Profile: Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna)". U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2009.
  9. ^ Roberson, Mary-Russell (January–February 2008). "Discovering South America's Camels". Smithsonian Zoogoer. National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA: Friends of the National Zoo. Archived from the original on 21 March 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  10. ^ Bonacic, Cristian; Gimpel, Jessica (1 January 2003). Lemons, John; Victor, Reginald; Schaffer, Daniel (eds.). Sustainable Use of the Vicuña: A Critical Analysis and the MACS Project. Springer US. p. 348. doi:10.1007/978-1-4615-0375-0_24. ISBN 978-1-4613-5045-3.
  11. ^ Coggins, David (20 September 2013). "Why Does a Vicuña Jacket Cost $21,000?". The Wall Street Journal.

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Vicuña: Brief Summary

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The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) or vicuna (both /vɪˈkuːnjə/, very rarely spelled vicugna, its genus name) is one of the two wild South American camelids, which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes, the other being the guanaco, which lives at lower elevations. Vicuñas are relatives of the llama, and are now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their coats. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years 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 highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments; today, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears on the Peruvian coat of arms.

Both under the rule of the Inca and today, vicuñas have been protected by law, but they were heavily hunted in the intervening period. At the time they were declared endangered in 1974, only about 6,000 animals were left. Today, 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 populations from poaching, habitat loss, and other threats.

Previously the vicuña was thought not to have been domesticated, and the llama and the alpaca were both regarded as descendants of the closely related guanaco. But DNA research published in 2001 has shown the alpaca may well have vicuña parentage. Today, the vicuña is mainly wild, but the local people still perform special rituals with these creatures, including a fertility rite.

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