The guanaco, the wild lama of South America


The emblematic animal of the Patagonia – 80% of its workforce live in Argentina – is considered the version Savage of the llama. Meet the guanaco, a camelid that roams the Andean highlands, where oxygen is scarce.

Guanaco identity card

The guanaco (Llama guanicoe) belongs to the order of artiodactyla, these ungulate mammals with an even number of nails on each leg. Along with the vicuña, it is the only species of camelids wild South America, the llama and alpaca having been domesticated. In Patagonia, where he lives mainly, the locals consider him to be the symbol of freedom. Her fur, fine, soft and light, produces a unique natural fiber, one of the most precious and rare in the world. The guanaco measures between 1.50 and 2.25 m long, from 1.60 to 1.80 m high (up to the head), for a weight of up to 120 kg.

The guanaco, graceful and slender

The guanaco has a rather massive and athletic, a long slender neck covered with thick skin. In a tone blackish gray, its small head is adorned with an elongated muzzle and large ears with rounded tips. Its tall, slender legs end in hooves, both of which separated fingers give it a good grip on rocks. Its fur displays a color ranging from Red to brown. Its sides, the inside of its legs and the underside of its belly are white. A less dense coat on the sides of its body allows it to disperse excess heat while its large eyelashes protect it from the dust blown by the wind.

The altiplano for the guanaco

Native to South America, the guanaco lives from Peru to Patagonia where it frequents thealtiplano, this mountainous region perched between 3600 and 5000m above sea level. Distributed all along the Andes Cordillera, the camelid occupies various habitats depending on the food available: highlands, arid and semi-arid environments, meadows, forests, shrub deserts or even rainy areas near the coasts. the blood of the ungulate contains a high number of oval-shaped red blood cells that allow it to climb to 4000 meters altitude, where oxygen becomes scarce. Some populations are sedentary when others make seasonal migrations, descending to avoid snow and ascending in times of drought.

Cacti on the guanaco menu

Rather flexible at mealtimes, guanaco adapts to vegetation sparse from the Andean highlands to compose its diet. Thus, the mammal herbivorous feeds on grasses, herbaceous plants, small shrubs, mosses, lichens and cacti. Like many camels, it can go several days without to drink, drawing the water necessary for its survival from the plants it consumes. The guanaco is a species diurnal, who spends most of his day grazing and ruminating.

The guanaco, always ready to flee

Social animal and gregarious, the guanaco evolves within a herd of about twenty individuals (females and their young) placed under the guidance of a dominant male. The herds of young unmarried males bring together up to fifty members. Of a temper fearful, the camelid is always on the lookout. When he detects a danger, he alerts his fellows with a shrill cry and the whole group flees. Very agile, the mammal is able to jump obstacles thanks to impressive leaps and run at a speed of up to 56 km / h.

Guanaco: love and fight

During the breeding season, the guanaco becomes aggressive, not hesitating to confront his rivals through signals of intimidation, charges, even prosecution. If threats are not enough, the fight begins with a series of bites, paws and kicks. spitting (just like the llama, a disgruntled guanaco can throw out its foul-smelling food bowl). The vanquished must abandon the territory and its harem.

The chulengo, baby guanaco

Every two years, after a period of gestation from 345 to 360 days, the female gives birth to a single young, called chulengo. The newborn is able to walk and follow its mother in the 24 hours following his birth. After about 10 months, the young is weaned and leaves the family clan to join a herd of singles. Once he has reached his sexual maturity, around 2 or 3 years old, the guanaco will establish its own territory.

Threats weighing on the guanaco

The adult guanaco knows only two predators : the puma and the fox. The little ones have one more: the condor. Before Europeans arrived in South America, the guanacos population was estimated to be around 50 millions of individuals. As a result of his persecution (for his meat and fur), the estimate is now between 1.5 and 2.2 million. The main threats currently to the camelid include hunting, poaching and fragmentation of its habitat (for grazing sheep, for example). This phenomenon separates populations from each other, thus increasing the risk ofextinctions local. Preserved in a few national parks, the guanaco is not considered a species threatened. The animal is listed in the “Least Concern” category on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and protected by the Washington Convention (CITES). Despite their protection, many guanacos are eliminated by sheep farmers because they are perceived as competitors food or disease vectors. The lifespan of the Lama guanicoe is 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.