The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is a camelid native to South America, closely related to the llama. Guanacos are one of two wild South American camelids, the other being the vicuña, which lives at higher elevations.
Guanacos stand between 1.0 and 1.3 m (3 ft 3 in and 4 ft 3 in) at the shoulder, body length of 2.1 to 2.2 m (6 ft 11 in to 7 ft 3 in), and weigh 90 to 140 kg (200 to 310 lb). Their color varies very little (unlike the domestic llama), ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. Guanacos have grey faces and small, straight ears.
Guanacos are one of the largest terrestrial mammals native to today's South America. Other terrestrial mammalian megafauna to weigh similar to or exceed the guanaco include the tapirs, the marsh deer, the white-tailed deer, the spectacled bear, and the jaguar.
Guanacos have thick skin on their neck, a trait also found in their domestic counterparts, the llama and in their relatives, the wild vicuña and domesticated alpaca. This protects their neck from predator attacks. Bolivians use the neck-skin of these animals to make shoes, flattening and pounding the skin to be used for the soles. In Chile, hunting is allowed only in Tierra del Fuego, where the only population not classified as endangered in the country resides. Between 2007 and 2012, 13,200 guanacos were legally hunted in Tierra del Fuego.
Guanacos are often found at high altitudes, up to 4,000 meters above sea level, except in Patagonia, where the southerly latitude means ice covers the vegetation at these altitudes. For guanacos to survive in the low oxygen levels found at these high altitudes, their blood is rich in red blood cells. A teaspoon of guanaco blood contains about 68 million red blood cell; four times that of a human.
Guanaco fiber is particularly prized for its soft, warm feel and is found in luxury fabric. The guanaco's soft wool is valued second only to that of the vicuña. The pelts, particularly from the calves, are sometimes used as a substitute for red fox pelts, because the texture is difficult to differentiate. Like their domestic descendant, the llama, the guanaco is double-coated with coarse guard hairs and a soft undercoat, the hairs of which are about 16–18 µ in diameter and comparable to the best cashmere.
- Lama guanicoe guanicoe
- Lama guanicoe cacsilensis
- Lama guanicoe voglii
- Lama guanicoe huanacus
Population and distribution
Guanacos inhabit the steppes, scrublands and mountainous regions of South America. They are found in the altiplano of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and in Patagonia, with a small population in Paraguay. In Argentina they are more numerous in Patagonian regions, as well as in places such as Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. In these areas, they have more robust populations, since grazing competition from livestock is limited. Guanaco responded to forage availability, occupying zones with low to intermediate food availability in the breeding season, and those with the highest availability in the non-breeding season. Estimates, as of 2011, place their numbers at 400,000 to 600,000; 466,000–520,000 in Argentina, 150–200 in Bolivia, 66,000 in Chile, 100 in Paraguay, 3,500 in Peru. A small population introduced by John Hamilton exists on Staats Island in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), with a population of around 400 as of 2003.
Guanacos live in herds composed of females, their young, and a dominant male. Bachelor males form separate herds. While reproductive groups tend to remain small, often containing no more than 10 adults, bachelor herds may contain as many as 50 males. When they feel threatened, guanacos alert the herd to flee with a high-pitched, bleating call. The male usually runs behind the herd to defend them. They can run at 56 km (35 mi) per hour, often over steep and rocky terrain. They are also excellent swimmers. A guanaco's typical lifespan is 20 to 25 years.
In Bolivia, the habitat of Guanacos is found to be threatened by woody plant encroachment.
Some guanacos live in the Atacama Desert, where in some areas it has not rained for over 50 years. A mountainous coastline running parallel to the desert enables them to survive in what are called "fog oases" or lomas. Where the cool water touches the hotter land, the air above the desert is cooled, creating a fog and thus, water vapor. Winds carry the fog across the desert, where cacti catch the water droplets and lichens that cling to the cacti soak it in like a sponge. Guanacos then eat the cacti flowers and the lichens.
The guanaco is a diurnal animal. It lives in small herds consisting of one male and several females with their young. When the male detects danger, he warns the group by bleating. The guanaco can run up to 64 km/h. This speed is important for the survival of guanacos because they cannot easily hide in the open grasslands of the Altiplano.
Natural predators of the guanaco include pumas and the culpeo or Andean fox. Fox predation was unknown until 2007 when predators began to be observed in the Karukinka Reserve in Tierra del Fuego. Scientists attribute the reason for the alleged new predation to the unfavourable climatic conditions on the island, which are causing food to become scarce, weakening the animals. The absence of pumas on Tierra del Fuego is also believed to be a factor that allows the fox to occupy its ecological niche. Finally, it is believed that this behaviour is not new, as the fox is nocturnal, which allows it to capture most of its prey, but makes it challenging to observe. Faced with the threat of the red fox, guanacos resort to cooperative strategies to protect their young with a shield formation, a circle around the vulnerable. If they are successful, they chase the fox away, which would be impossible with a puma.
When threatened, the guanaco alerts the rest of the herd with a high-pitched bleating sound, which sounds similar to a short, sharp laugh. Though typically mild-mannered, guanacos often spit when threatened, and can do so up to a distance of six feet.
Mating season occurs between November and February, during which males often fight violently to establish dominance and breeding rights. Eleven-and-a-half months later, a single chulengo is born. Chulengos are able to walk immediately after birth. Male chulengos are chased off from the herd by the dominant male around one year of age.
Although the species is still considered wild, around 300 guanacos are in U.S. zoos, and around 200 are registered in private herds. Guanacos have long been thought to be the parent species of the domesticated llama, which was confirmed via molecular phylogenetic analysis in 2001, although the analysis also found that domestic llamas had experienced considerable cross-hybridization with alpacas, which are descended from the wild vicuña.
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Media files used on this page
Author/Creator: Lklundin, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
The remains of a Guanaco scattered in the Atacama desert, 10km inland and 10km southwest of Cerro Paranal. The only intact section of skin is the one around the neck. In between the bones are numerous tracks from several different types of animals.
Author/Creator: E. Matamoros/ESO, Licence: CC BY 4.0
These friendly looking creatures, photographed in front of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, are Guanacos. Guanacos, alongside the Vicuña, are one of two types of wild camelid native to this region of northern Chile.
Reaching between one and two metres in length (from their heads to their tails) and weighing up to 120 kilograms, guanacos are one of the largest land mammals in Chile.
These intrepid adventurers can be found in Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and throughout the Andes: from Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south of Chile all the way up to Peru. Thriving on the feasts of the desert flora, guanacos enjoy mushrooms, grasses, leaves, trees and even some types of cactus flowers as part of their diets.Guanacos and vicuñas are no stranger to ESO’s facilities in the Atacama Desert. In February 2014 a vicuña fawn was rescued by ESO staff when it wandered into a facility for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau. The creature had become separated from its herd after being chased by a fox. It is now recovering at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre at the Universidad de Antofagasta, and will eventually be returned to the wild.