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Endangered Creatures

Turning a vicuña's coat
into commercially valuable cloth
on a sustainable basis
would not only help the local people,
it might also help secure
the future of this species
in the wild.

How vicuñas live

A member of the camel family, the vicuña is closely related to the llama and alpaca. The coat of the vicuña is light brown above and off-white below, with a patch of longer hair on the throat and chest, the latter serving to keep the animal warm when resting on the ground. The head is relatively small in comparison with body size, and the vicuña has small, prominent ears and eyes. The neck is long. An adult vicuña is 4 to 6 feet long, stands 30 to 40 inches at the shoulder, and weighs 88 to 110 lb. It feeds on perennial bunch grasses, tubers, and mosses. Predators include the puma and the Andean fox.

The vicuña is a social animal. Territorial males maintain family groups consisting of a number of adult females and their young; non-breeding males live a solitary life or some may join other males and form bachelor groups. The dominant male defends a feeding and sleeping territory averaging 17 to 74 acres, which is maintained throughout the year. Males rarely reach sexual maturity before they are four years of age. Sexual maturity in the female is reached in two to three years; mating in March or April, she produces one young after a gestation period of 330 to 350 days. The young nurses for up to ten months and becomes independent between one and two years of age.

Where they live

The vicuña is found in the Central Andes of South America, in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. The majority of vicuñas are now on protected reserves. In 1981 the population was estimated at 150,000 animals, of which some 98,000 occur in Peru.

The preferred habitat of this species is semi-arid grasslands and plains at altitudes of 9,850 to 15,100 feet. Groups spend the day in one feeding territory, then move to higher elevations at night to sleep. 

What is happening to their habitat

The vicuña is a sought-after species on account of its lustrous wool--often said to be the finest quality in the world. Unlike the other South American camelids, the llama and alpaca, the vicuña was never domesticated and historically was not heavily used. The Incas reserved the right to capture and shear wild vicuña for special rituals, and its wool was only used for certain types of clothing. During this period, the Incas were judicious in their use of vicuñas, but when the Spanish overcame the Inca people, all conservation measures were abandoned.

The vicuña population is thought to have been several million individuals before it became the
target of hunters. By the 1500s, numbers had been reduced to less than 500,000; by 1965, only 6,500 survived. At that point, conservation efforts were initiated and protected reserves were
established for this species. Additional protection was provided by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These efforts were successful and resulted in a population of 80,000 to 85,000 by the early 1980s.

Illegal hunting is still a problem in parts of the animal's range, particularly in Peru and Bolivia. Experiments have begun in Chile and Peru, where viable populations now exist once again, to capture, shear, and release wild animals. Turning a vicuña's coat into commercially valuable cloth on a sustainable basis would not only help the local people, it might also help secure the future of this species in the wild. 

Source: Endangered Creatures Website


coat: hair or wool or fur covering the body of an animal (piel)
closely related to: intimately related to (intimamente ligada con)
tubers: fleshy underground roots (tubérculos)
mosses: tiny leafy-stemmed plants (musgos)
predators: any animal that lives by preying on other animals (predadores)
fox: carnivorous mammal (zorro)
mating: copulating (apareando, copulando)

nurses: feeds (se alimenta)
grasslands: land where grass or grasslike vegetation grows and is the dominant form of plant life (praderas, pampas)

sought-after: greatly desired (perseguida)
on account of
: due to, because of (a causa de, debido a)
shear: cut the wool from (esquilar, cortar la lana)
overcame: wan the victory (ganaron, los vencieron)
target of hunters: purpose, objective of hunters (objetivo de los cazadores)
to hunt/hunted/hunted/hunting: catch and kill animals (cazar)
illegal hunting: hunting declared illegal (caza ilegal)
release: let free (liberar, dejar en libertad)