From Academic Kids

For the city in northern Chile, see Vicuña, Chile
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Scientific classification
Species:V. vicugna
Binomial name
Vicugna vicugna
(Molina, 1782)

The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) is a relative of the llama and a member of the camelid family which lives in the high Andes. It produces small amounts of extremely fine wool – about a pound per year. The Incas raised Vicuñas for their wool. It was against the law for anybody but royalty to wear a vicuña garments. Both today and under the rule of the Inca, the vicuña was protected by law. In 1960 there were only about 6,000 vicuñas in the wild due to uncontrolled poaching ever since Spanish conquest of South America. Protection measures were carried out by Peru and Chile, which raised their numbers up to 125,000. Although the number is somewhat comforting, these animals are still classified as vulnerable by the IUCN and endangered by the USDI.



It is more delicate and graceful than the guanaco, and smaller. The long, woolly coat is tawnybrown on the back while the hair on the throat and chest is white and quite long. The head is slightly shorter than the guanaco's and the ears are slightly longer. Length of head and body 1.45 to 1.60 m (about 5 ft); shoulder height 75 to 85 cm (around 3 ft); weight 35 to 65 kg (under 150 lb).


The distribution of vicuñas in the wild.
The distribution of vicuñas in the wild.

South America, in the central andes. Specifically, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina


Vicuñas live in grasslands and plains in the mountainous regions at an altitude of 4000 to 5500 m. In these areas, only nutrient poor tough bunch grasses and festuca grows. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are able to penetrate through the thin atmosphere producing relatively warm temperatures in the day, however the temperatures go back to freezing at night. The vicuña’s thick but soft coat is a special adaptation that traps layers of warm air close to its body so it can tolerate the freezing temperatures.


The behavior of the vicuña is similar to that of the guanaco. Vicuñas are very shy animals and are easily aroused by intruders. Like the latter, it will frequently lick calcareous stones and rocks, which are rich in salt, and it will also drink salt water. Its diet consists mainly of low grasses which grow in clumps on the ground. It lives in family-based groups made up of a male, and 5 to 15 females and their young. Each group has its own territory of about 180,000 m² this can fluctuate depending on the availability of food. Mating usually occurs in March-April, and after a gestation period of about 11 months the female gives birth to a single young which it nurses for about 10 months and becomes independent at about 12 to 18 months. Young males will form bachelor groups and the young females search for another group to join. Along with preventing intraspecial competition, it also prevents inbreeding which can cause a population bottleneck in endangered species as observed with de:Vikunja en:Vicuña es:Vicuña (animal) fr:Vigogne he:ויקוניה ia:Vicunia nl:Vicuña pl:Wigoń


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