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PER - Les camélidés
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| Camelids and the Andes |

A typical inhabitant of the Andes, the South American camelid has for the past 6,000 years served as a source of food, clothing and as a beast of burden for Peruvians. Moreover, the animal is a quintessential part of the personality of the highlands, and has wielded a major influence on the serene and contemplative idiosyncrasy of its tamers.
Over the centuries, various Andean cultures have crafted images of llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas, from the cave paintings of Toquepala, depicting hunting scenes, to the more sophisticated Inca pottery. These animals have also formed part of countless ritual ceremonies, whether as sacrificial victims or as companions to their overlords in their tombs. Their origins, however, stem from distant-lands: it is believed that millions of years ago the camelid family inhabited what is now North America. Apparently at some point a group emigrated to Alaska and then over to Siberia, giving rise to the present-day Indo-European camel. Another group then emigrated south, discovering an ideal habitat in the central Andes.

Each of the four species of Andean camelid -whose identical number of chromosomes makes it possible to cross the species- has developed its own characteristics. The llama, the strongest and appreciated as a pack animal (which can carry up to 60 kg), stands around 1.90 meters tall and comes in a variety of up to 50 colors. The alpaca, whose fiber is popular in the textile industry, stands 1.50 meters tall. Its meat is also being promoted in the foodstuffs processing industry. The vicuña, which is smaller (barely 1.30 meters tall) and runs wild, features extremely fine fur which is in such demand that poachers have driven it to the verge of extinction. Today, the animal is protected by the Peruvian State. Finally, the guanaco is the wildest of the Andean camelids, standing around 1.80 meters tall. It is also found in the highlands of Argentina and Chile.


The Llama

The llama was widely used as a pack animal by the Incas and other natives of the Andes mountains. In South America llamas are still used as beasts of burden, as well as for the production of fiber and meat.

The height of a full-grown, full-size llama is between 5.5 feet (1.6 meters) to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall at the top of the head. They can weigh between approximately 280 pounds (127 kilograms) and 450 pounds (204 kilograms). At birth, a baby llama (called a cria) can weigh between 20 pounds (9 kilograms) to 30 pounds (14 kilograms). Llamas are very social animals and like to live with other llamas as a herd. Overall, the fiber produced by a llama is very soft and is naturally lanolin free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. When using a pack, llamas can carry about 25%–30% of their body weight for several miles.


The Alpaca

The alpaca resembles a small llama in superficial appearance. Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of Ecuador, southern Peru, northern Bolivia, and northern Chile at an altitude of 3500 to 5000 meters above sea level, throughout the year. Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas, and unlike llamas, alpacas are not used as beasts of burden but are valued only for their fiber. Alpaca fiber is used for making knitted and woven items, much as sheep’s wool is. These items include blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in South America, and sweaters, socks, coats and bedding in other parts of the world. The fiber comes in more than 52 natural colors as classified in Peru, 12 as classified in Australia and 16 as classified in the United States. Alpacas and llamas differ in that alpacas have straight ears and llamas have banana-shaped ears. Aside from these differences, llamas are on average 1-2 feet taller and proportionally bigger than alpacas.


The Vicuña

The vicuña is one of two wild South American camelids, along with the guanaco, which live in the high alpine us areas of the Andes. It is a relative of the llama and the alpaca. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every 3 years. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña’s fur is very soft and warm. It is understood that the Inca raised vicuñas for their wool, and that it was against the law for any but royalty to wear vicuña garments.

Both under the rule of the Inca and today, vicuñas have been protected by law. Before being declared endangered in 1974, only about 6,000 animals were left. Today, the vicuña have recovered to about 125,000.


The Guanaco

The guanaco stands between 107 and 122 centimeters (3.5 and 4 feet) at the shoulder and weighs about 90 kg (200 lb). The color varies very little, ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. Guanacos have grey faces and small straight ears. They are extremely striking with their large, alert brown eyes, streamlined form, and energetic pace. They are particularly ideal for keeping in large groups in open parklands.

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