Saturday, April 25, 2009

Camelids of Peru

Camelids are distant relatives of the camel. The camelids of Peru include the llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña, listed in order from largest to smallest and from roughest to finest wool. Here is a herd of alpaca that we saw on our trip to Junín today. They have recently been sheered. We have a couple of alpaca rugs at home and the wool is long and silky. The alpaca, like the llama, are domesticated:

The high central Andes mountains are also home to numerous wild (undomesticated) vicuña, as shown in these pictures that we also took today in the pampa of Junín:

A closeup of the same herd as above:

This picture shows the "macho" (male member) of another herd that we saw today:

This is a different shot of the same macho:

Vicuñas used to be on the endangered species list, but their numbers have greatly increased because the Peruvian government has taken measures to protect them. Vicuñas produce some of the best and most expensive soft, warm wool of any animal in the world. A scarf made of vicuña wool can cost US$1500, and a man's coat of vicuña wool can cost up to US$20,000.
(Biochemistry note: Because vicuñas roam the high Andes at altitudes between 13,000 and 15,000 feet, they have four times the concentration of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in their blood as humans that live at sea level.)


Russ said...

Those recently sheered alpaca are looking pretty sorry, but the vicuñas are beautiful.

Sharon and Lin said...

Super interesting information and impressive pictures! You must have a good lens on your camera, or you got pretty close, to get a couple of those pictures. Great post.