Culture, Customs

Andean Camelids and Their Characteristics

Alpacas and Llamas (Photo: Wayra)

In South America there are 4 species of camelids: the vicuña and the guanaco found in the wild and the llama and alpaca that were domesticated.

Raising camelids reached its maximum expression and development in Inca times. It was developed in a rational way to conserve the ecosystem and the welfare of the population by having control of grazing—irrigation systems for the pastures that were the main food, control over the diseases, as well as the division of the animals by sex, age and by the color of their fiber. These systems of raising and feeding are still being carried out by our rural people today.

The camelids gave us and still do many products such as leather; bones used to make wind instruments and to make fabrics; manure, which was very important as fertilizer in agriculture as well as fuel for melting metals.

Although in the Inca era there was control over the aging of the llama and the Alpaca, with the arrival of the Spaniards the population of the camelids declined markedly. During the wars of conquest a large number of these animals were killed to stock meat. they were also displaced by the arrival of other animals and died from new diseases.

Here we give the characteristics of each species.

The llama

A Herder and His Llamas (Photo: Walter Coraza)
A Herder and His Llamas (Photo: Walter Coraza)

• This animal was used in the Inca period to produce fiber and garments that served as tribute to the state.
• They are the strongest Andean camelids; they can carry between 20 and 25 kilos depending on the distance they travel.
• Their weight at adulthood in males is: 116 kilos and in females 101 kilos.
• Their body is slender and their head is small in relation to their body.
• There are two varieties of Llama: Qara – which is slender without much wool and is raised for its meat and Ch’aku – which is very shaggy from head to legs and is raised by its wool.

The Alpaca

Beauty and the Alpacas
Beauty and the Alpacas

• A great variety of important textiles was made from alpaca fiber due to the softness of its wool.
• Their head is smaller than the llama’s.
• Their adult weight is 63 kilos for the male and the female is 62 kilos
• Its adult height is between 0.80 to 0.90 meters.
• There are two varieties of alpaca – suri and wacaya.

Vicuña

Vicuña
Vicuña

• From the fiber of the vicuña, garments were made for the nobility as vicuña fiber is the finest despite being a wild animal. In the Inca era, the chaccos or corrals were made in which they trapped to the vicuñas alive to remove the wool and in turn to cure those who were sick, in the end releasing them in their natural habitation.
• They have a slender silhouette.
• The color of the fleece is light brown, the chest, belly and inner part is white.
• They have large bright black eyes with triangular ears.
• They are very aggressive.
• The adult vicuña measures between 1.15 to 1.30 meters
• Its weight is from 35 to 40 kilos.

The guanaco

Guanaco in the mountain
Guanaco in the mountain

• They are characterized by their slender body.
• Their coat is woolly and short.
• The surroundings of the lips, the edge of the ears and the lower part of the body are whitish.
• The adult guanaco measures between 1.20 to 1.75 meters.
• Their weight at adulthood is from 96 to 140 kilos

Currently in Cusco there is an animal sanctuary called “Awana Kancha” where you can see these 4 species of camelids, you can feed them and the entrance is free.

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