Let’s talk about camels. Not the ones with humps on their backs, but their Peruvian cousins. You’ve probably heard of llamas and alpacas, common throughout Peru, which are domesticated versions of vicuñas (vi-koo-nyas) and guanacos (gwa-nah-kos).
Widely used as a meat and pack animal by those living in the Andean countryside. Their wool is not as refined alpaca fleece and their heads aren’t quite as furry. Llamas are more independent and typically less jumpy than their smaller cousins. Because they tend to be more aggressive, they are sometimes used as guard animals for alpacas, sheep, and other livestock. Two ways to tell a llama from an alpaca are their banana-shaped ears and larger bodies, weighing up to 400 lbs.
For more than 5,000 years alpacas have been bred for their wool, renowned for its quality and softness. They have also been bred for their meat, so alpaca-based dishes can be found throughout Peru. Being herd animals, they are comfortable in a community. Their short ears, flatter snouts and smaller frames distinguish them from llamas.
Vicuñas are the national animal of Peru and appear on the Peruvian coat-of-arms. They can be found throughout Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, where their population is highest. Their wool is extremely fine and expensive, owing to the fact they can only be shorn once every three years. Only royalty are permitted to wear clothes made of vicuña wool.
Guanacos are native to the altiplano regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Guanacos are numerous in Argentina, where they roam Patagonia. They live in herds consisting of a dominant male and his harem. Along with jaguars and tapirs they are among the largest mammals in South America. Watch out, they spit!
Try and spot all four on your visit to Peru!