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Wild Guanacos Domestic Guanaco

Wild guanacos in their native habitat.........................Royal Fibers Prince Legolas - domestic guanaco

Guanacos, a member of the Camelidae Family, are a uniform color with fox red-rust bodies, white underbellies and pearl gray faces dominated by large, dark brown eyes. Their ears are straight and erect, giving them an alert, inquisitive appearance. They are not picky eaters, surviving on harsh grasses and brush in the wild. They are easily maintained in captivity and thrive on pasture, a variety of hays, supplemental protein block and an occasional treat of whole grain. The guanaco's coat is a soft downy fiber covering. It is highly valued for both its rarity and soft texture. Of all the world's furbearing animals the guanaco's wool is second only in fineness to that of its wild cousin, the vicuna. Their gestation period is 11 1/2 months with a single baby, called a chulengo, being born annually. The female becomes sexually able to reproduce at 10-12 months of age, sometimes even younger, but great care should be taken to wait until she is 2 years old before breeding. This practice gives her an opportunity to mature, to provide adequate milk for her newborn, and reduces birthing complications.

The graceful wild guanaco lives from snowline to sea level throughout the Andes Mountains in Peru and Bolivia and on the Pantagonian plateau of Argentina. The rare guanaco is exhibited in only a handful of zoos in the United States. In fact, there are fewer than 300 held in 78 zoos worldwide and fewer than 200 registered in private herds in the United States.

There are four species in the Camelidae Family in South America. Two are wild: the guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and the vicuņa (Vicugna vicugna); and two are domestic. The domestic llama (Lama glama) and alpaca (L. pacos) are found throughout the Andean altiplano and the southern part of the continent. The latter two species have historically been very important in economic, social and cultural terms. Llamas for packing as a beast of burden, and also to a lesser degree as a producer of fiber. The Alpaca has been bred almost exclusively for the soft warm fiber. The domestic species are believed to derive from the guanaco - or perhaps the alpaca was a hybrid of the guanaco and the vicuņa. It is beleived that they were domesticated some time between 4 000 and 3 500 B.C.

Vernacular names for the guanaco (pronounced "whah-nah-co") are: Guanaco, huanaco, luan (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru). The wild guanaco originally ranged from the Andean areas of northern Peru and Bolivia and adjacent parts of Paraguay down to Tierra del Fuego, covering most of Argentina and Chile. Guanacos still survive in some isolated parts of the Peruvian altiplano, in northern Chile, in western Argentina from Catamarca to southern Patagonia and in Chile's Magallanes province. There are two recognized subspecies: the smaller L. guanicoe cacsilensis, in Peru and Bolivia, and L. guanicoe guanicoe in Chile and Argentina. The wild guanaco is found from sea level up to altitudes of 17,000 feet.

The guanaco is one of South America's largest land dwelling mammals, reaching its maximum size in Magallanes with a total adult length of 5.77-6.63 feet (average 6.23), an average weight of 250 kg (200-300 lb), and a shoulder height of 3.6-3.8 feet. The Peruvian population is slightly smaller. Males and females are about equal in size.

In the wild, Guanacos prefer cold or temperate open areas such as shrub-steppe and semi-arid brushlands, but their habitat may range from the deserts of the western Andean slopes to the wet coastal rainforests of Tierra del Fuego. Guanaco are often pushed into marginal habitats by the pressure of livestock activities, and hunting by native peoples who prize their pelts and meat. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the guanaco was the most abundant ungulate in South America, with an estimated population of 10 to 30 million. Uncontrolled hunting of the guanaco reduced their numbers to just a few thousand, but after the governments declared them to be endangered in the mid 1970's, they have made a slow comeback. Current numbers are thought to be about 575,000, of which nearly 550,000 live in Argentina, 20,000 in southern Chile and 5,000 in Peru.

Guanacos live in family groups of one male, several females, and their young. The group size varies from two to 30 and averages eight to 16. The groups tend to be bigger during the mating season: some females may leave in the winter. Subadults males are forcibly evicted from the group at the age of 13 to 15 months and form male groups. The old males live alone. These family groups live in permanent territories of 75 to 125 square miles that the territorial male defends, but they may migrate altitudinally or laterally in many areas, and sometimes form large mixed groups that winter together. Guanacos are active during the day, much of which is spent feeding. On detecting a potential predator they give a cry of alarm and flee while maintaining visual contact with the pursuer.

The guanaco is a non-specialized herbivore and basically a grazer, but may also browse. The diet in Magallanes is made up of 62 percent grasses and about 15 percent browse. Dicotyledons form 11 percent of the diet and are particularly important in the spring, i.e. the months of October and November. Guanacos also eat epiphytes, lichens and fungi. The guanaco inhabits a great variety of habitats and so its diet may also vary greatly at different times and places. Guanacos are more efficient than sheep at digesting crude fibre and dry matter, and may compete with them for winter fodder. Winter food shortages caused by overgrazing by sheep are probably the main cause of guanaco mortality in wild.

Reproduction takes place in the spring and summer from November to March, with most births falling between mid-December and January. The gestation period is 345-360 days, roughly one year, and the female breeds again very soon after giving birth to a single chunego. The 15 - 25 pound newborn guanaco is very precocious and can graze and run about just a few days after birth. The mother may suckle her offspring up to six or eight months. The baby guanaco grows very fast, with a female reaching sexual maturity at, perhaps, two, and adult size in three or four years. The age may be estimated by the tooth eruption and replacement pattern and the degree of wear and layers of cementum on the first mandibular incisor. Guanacos in captivity may live as long as 25 years or more.

The people of South America used to hunt guanaco by driving them into a ravine where another group of hunters waited in ambush to spear them. They were also hunted on horseback with bolas. Today the weapon of choice is a long-range repeater rifle, while baby guanaco are driven to exhaustion by mounted riders and then clubbed to death. Guanacos are now protected, and the native peoples are allowed to capture them for shearing, but then release them back into the wild. Guanaco used to be the major protein source for many indigenous groups in the Andes and in southern South America. People prefer to eat guanaco meat in the form of "charki" (jerky), a salted and dried preparation. The fresh meat is not considered very appetizing. The dressed weight constitutes 55-57 percent of the total weight and the dried meat 10.2 percent. The soft pelts of baby guanacos two to three weeks old, much persecuted in Patagonia, are the most lucrative product. A total of 443,655 skins were exported from Argentina between 1972 and 1979, but the number dropped to 13,157 in 1983 and 10,250 in 1984. The short, coarse, scant (2-3 pounds/adult) wool is woven in various ways and the cured hides are used for shoes.

Argentina's remnant guanaco population is about 8 percent of the original estimated population and Chile's a bare 1 percent. Increasing numbers of European immigrants and their livestock, particularly sheep, displaced the guanaco as the prime herbivore on the steppes and mountainsides of southern South America. Guanaco populations have been slashed by culling to protect pasture for sheep, commercial hunting of baby guanacos, fodder shortages in winter due to overgrazing by sheep, fencing that blocked seasonal migrations and became a fatal trap for guanacos attempting to cross it, and deforestation. The species is considered endangered in Peru. Guanaco hunting has been forbidden in Peru since 1977 and in Chile since 1972, but it is still authorized in Argentina's southern provinces. South American camelid research and conservation began to receive considerable attention in the 1970s. The data on guanaco biology and abundance are good, and there are a number of management guidelines, thanks to the dedicated research of several University professors and their students, foremost of which is Dr. William Franklin of Iowa State University.

Adaptable to almost any climate with minimal shelter, the guanaco is a pure pleasure to breed and own. Due to their jumping ability, they do require

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