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Last updated date: 16th May 2024
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Vicuna Animal

Vicuna Meaning - The vicuna (pronounced ve-coon-ah) is an Andes mountain species that is related to the guanaco. The vicuna animal is a member of the camel family, but it is the tiniest member. The vicuna is about half the size of a guanaco, has a smaller tail, and finer fur than a guanaco. Ancient vinuya domestication attempts are likely to have given rise to domestic alpacas. 

Vicuña is adapted to high altitudes and lives in the grasslands of the central Andes mountains. Most Vicuña is located between 10,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level, which is higher than most mountains in many parts of the world. They spend their days roaming the grassy plains, feeding. The herds return to the hills at night. 

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Vicuna is able to escape many predators in the hills and mountainous areas. They are extremely agile around rocky ridges, allowing them to avoid predators that are less agile. Pumas, on the other hand, are a major Vicuña predator, and they are more than capable of catching prey on shaky ground.

Vicuña - The Princess of the Andes

The Incas used to think of vicuna wool as "golden cloth." Because of its unique softness and amazing ability to retain heat, it is one of the most common fabrics among people living in the Andes' colder regions. 

This wool was once highly prized and was only allowed to be worn by Inca royalty; it was not permitted to be worn by commoners. Even though times have changed, wool, which is used to make shawls, suits, jackets, and even home furnishings such as warm and comfortable blankets and throws, remains extremely important.

Vicuña Wool – One of the World’s Most Expensive Fabrics

Because of its extremely soft and warm nature, the fiber provided by the vicuna animal is extremely valuable. Wool fibers are among the finest in the animal kingdom, resulting in one of the softest fabrics ever produced when woven together. The fabric is so costly that a vicuna wool suit jacket will cost upwards of $20,000! 

The fibers are built to keep the animal comfortable in the Andes Mountains' highly variable climate. Temperatures can reach dangerously high levels during the day. Vicuna wool's light colour and airiness prevent the animals from overheating. The Andes at night is a different story, with temperatures often falling below zero.

Even in subzero conditions, the hollow air pockets inside the wool keep the species warm. 

The fine wool of the vicuna was one of the reasons why it was admired by the ancient Inca civilization. The wool was only worn by Incan royalty as a symbol of rank and reverence. vicugna wool was brought back to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors and became increasingly common. The vicuna was nearly extinct in the 1960s due to decades of unchecked harvesting!

Preventing Poaching – Shave the Vicuñas

The protection of vicunas is based on a strategy that can be applied to a wide range of endangered species. The Peruvian government and a number of non-profit organizations joined forces in the 1970s to save the vicuna from extinction. It took the support of the group and a large number of wool shears to accomplish this. 

The group meets in the national park every few years to round up all of the vicunas. Hundreds of thousands of vicunas are slowly but steadily herded into pens. The vicugna is caught, shaved, and released back into the wild. This method eliminates the animals' precious wool, as well as the value poachers, see in them. This is referred to as a Chaccu – It's a bit like a vicuna rodeo! The wool is sold to support environmental projects as well as the local economy.

This method was instrumental in the vicuna's removal from the endangered species list! In the 1960s, there were just 6,000 vicunas, but now the population is well over 350,000! Other conservationists working on other species have begun to use this method, with similar results. In certain parks, rhinos and elephants have their ivory tusks shaved off on a daily basis, rendering the animals almost useless to poachers. When a valuable part of an animal can be extracted without causing damage to the animal, the technique is ideal for reducing poaching.

Wool-Producing Animals

Wool is produced by a number of animals, including sheep and llamas, but not all wool is created equal. Wool from various species has a wide range of characteristics, including width, weight, growth time, and the ability to trap air pockets. Vicuna wool is exceptionally fine and excellent at trapping air, but it can take up to two years to fully mature! 

The majority of wool-producing animals evolved in climates with extreme temperature swings. When it's too cold, wool traps heat, and when it's too hot, it dissipates it. This enables wool-producing animals to live in mountainous areas where temperature variations are frequent. Wool also has oils on it that help keep animals dry when it rains a lot.

Sheep, llamas, goats, and some rabbits are all domestic wool-producing animals that have been artificially selected to produce more wool, faster. While llamas and alpacas are closely related to vicunas, they can produce much more wool than vicious because they have been selectively bred to do so for generations. While this makes alpaca wool more available, it also raises the value of vicuna wool, which is of higher quality and more difficult to come by. 

The Vicuna is the smallest member of the Camelidae family, standing 90 cm tall and weighing about 110 pounds. It has a long neck, but a small head in comparison to the rest of its body. It has tiny and prominent eyes and ears.

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The light brown colour of its fur contrasts with the off-white colour of its wool below. Its throat and chest are covered in a patch of longer fur that protects it from the freezing temperatures of high altitudes.

Vicuña’s Characteristics

Vicunas, including Camels, Llamas, Alpacas, Guanacos, and other members of the Camelidae family, are graceful and soft mammals that live in Western South America. 

These animals have a fine, warm coat that comes in a variety of colours and protects them from the cold. 

In comparison to their sense of smell, these animals' vision and hearing are more refined. These animals emit a high, clear whistle to warn their herds when they detect some danger around them.

Vicuna at the Lagoon of Miscanti

Miscanti, a heart-shaped lagoon in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, is known for its dark blue hue. It is situated at 4140 meters. 

Lake Miscanti is a significant biotope in the Los Flamencos National Reserve. Flamingos and other uncommon Altiplanic birds are breeding on its shores. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year because of its unique scenic beauty.

Vicunas are wild animals that graze on low grasses and ruminate while resting. They ride in small female bands, with a male vicuna leading them and protecting them and their territories from intruders. Males who are incapable of doing so are either forced to live alone or join other males to form bachelor groups. 

Vicuna, a single young Vicuna born in February. 11 months after mating, a young vicuna is born. It will then remain with its mother for at least ten months after birth before moving about on its own.

Vicunas are also exceptional communicators, using body postures such as ear and tail placements, as well as other minor gestures. These animals are often very noisy and, like all lamoids, have a habit of spitting regularly. They often use communal dung heaps to mark their territorial borders, which is a fascinating fact about them.

Vicuña’s Distribution

Vicunas can be found in South American countries such as Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and Chile in the central Andes Mountains.  These animals prefer semi-arid environments with elevations ranging from 9,850 to 15,100 feet. During the day, these animals spend their time in a single feeding territory, and when night falls, they return to their high-elevation areas to sleep. 

The Vicuña blood has peculiar properties that enable them to live at such heights. At such great heights, other mammals rapidly run out of air. 

The Vicuña used to have a larger distribution area, probably as far as Ecuador. Hunting by humans almost wiped them out. Vicuña fossils have also been discovered in coastal areas. 

Vicuña was not only limited to areas in the high mountains as their home. 

Adaptation to high altitudes became necessary only after the vicunas were displaced from their original distribution areas by other species.

Animal Welfare

Since there are no domesticated herds and all animals remain in the wild, animal welfare is a top priority for vicunas. 

Since the Indios who is in charge of shearing has been doing it for decades, they are very skilled and do not use a stretching bench to repair the animals. 

Veterinarians inspect and vaccinate the vicunas at the same time to ensure their survival and to raise the herds. During the time of the Indios, the Andes were home to around 1.5 million vicunas. We are still a long way from these figures today.

If you're ever thinking of purchasing this special wool, pay close attention to the mark. There must be a notice that says "legally sheared." It denotes that the vicuna wool is sourced from well-managed ventures. If this is not the case, the substance should be avoided.

Interesting Insights from the Vicuña

The vicuna is a fascinating animal, partly due to its remarkable adaptations and partly due to humanity's past with the vicuna. While these are interesting topics, the vicuna also demonstrates a number of critical biological principles!

FAQs on Vicuna

Question 1 - State the History and Conservation of Vicuñas?

Ans - Vicunas have been hunted and sought after since the Incas' time because of their valuable fur. The Incas, on the other hand, did not catch this animal to slaughter it; rather, they wanted its fur, which they used to weave certain forms of ritual clothing. 

When Spanish explorers conquered the Incas in the 16th century, they began hunting Vicunas indiscriminately, causing their numbers to dwindle. Whereas several million Vicunas populated various parts of the Earth before becoming a focus of Spanish people, their numbers plummeted to less than 6000 after this incident.

Vicuña was nearly extinct in the 1960s, which is why they were added to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendix in 1975, and thus protected. Since then, trade has been governed by strict guidelines. 

The majority of vicuna wool is still sourced from Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and Chile, where all animals are free to roam.

Question 2 - Why was the Vicuña not Domesticated by the Incas?

Ans - The Vicuña fleece is of exceptional quality. Why hadn't the Indians already domesticated these animals? 

The failure of efforts to domesticate vicunas seems to be due to the animals' mating activity. A complex mating practice is conducted prior to the actual mating. Captivity inhibits or prevents this mating ritual. 

As a result, captive vicunas rarely have offspring. The mating habits of llamas and alpacas are somewhat similar. They are, however, much less complicated. 

The Incas did not consider the vicuna to be domesticable. Wild herds have been rounded up and shorn every 2-5 years since pre-Columbian times. The shorn animals were then released back into the wild.

Question 3 - Why is Vicuña Wool so Valuable?

Ans - Vicuna wool is important because Vicunas do not manufacture wool at a rapid rate. Since it takes years for them to regrow sheared wool, herders find it difficult to obtain large amounts of it. As a result, wool has become scarce. 

Vicunas, like their cousins, are not domesticated, and they were nearly extinct in the 1960s, with a population as low as 6500 individuals. Peruvians, on the other hand, have worked hard to protect their national animals, and their population is now growing again.

Question 4 - How much does it Cost?

Ans - The high price is also due to the low yield per shear, which is just a few ounces. The light brown hair in the back is still less expensive than the white hair in the belly! Vicuna wool cannot be dyed or bleached since the consistency of the fibers will be compromised. The albino vicunas, which are exceedingly rare, are particularly exclusive. 

The raw material can cost up to $15 per ounce, equating to a kilo cost of about 530 dollars. The price increases to $10,000 after washing, sorting and spinning. As a result, it is obvious that Vicuna wool is the most exclusive wool on the planet.

Vicunas are a protected and precious species, and the wool that only a few people can obtain from them is worth more than gold to them, making it the most exclusive yarn for high-end fashion.