DESCRIPTION: The smallest of the wild camelids4, the vicuña, or vicugna, is similar in appearance to the guanaco but is smaller and has a finer fur4. There are two sub-species, the northern and the southern, the southern being slightly larger and lighter in colour7.
HABITAT: Vicuñas are found on the Andean plateau in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Peru, living in grasslands, steppes and marshland over 3,200 metres above sea level3. There is also a small introduced population in Ecuador3. They are found in family or all male groups. The territory of a family group is defended by the male and is split into two parts, a sleeping territory and a feeding territory – sleeping in the higher terrain1. Single males and bachelor groups tend not to hold territories7.
FEEDING: The vicuña is a grazer and has specially adapted teeth that continually grow, allowing them to graze very close to the ground2,7. They need to drink daily5 and are usually found within two kilometres of water3.
BREEDING: A single young is born after a pregnancy of between 330 and 350 days1. The young weighs approximately 5-6kg at birth and can stand within 15 minutes4.
CONSERVATION: Vicuña are not classed as endangered, but poaching is a problem, as the areas in which they are found, although protected, are hard to monitor3. Illegal trading in their pelts still occurs and their habitat is believed to be threatened by climate change, which could make them endangered in the future3. Forty years ago they were believed to be one of the most threatened animals in South America, but conservation measures, including the protected areas (despite the problems) and a CITES listing, have helped3.
1 Macdonald (Ed), Encyclopaedia of Mammals, Oxford University Press (2001)
2 Nowak, R. Walker’s Mammals of the World. John Hopkins University Press (1991)
3 IUCN REDLIST www.iucnredlist.org.uk
4 WAZA, VIRTUAL ZOO www.waza.org
5 ANIMAL, Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2001
6 Ultimate Ungulate. www.ultimateungulate.com/artiodactyla