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Camels in the Andes?

Camels in the Andes?

 Camels in the Andes?


CAMELS in South America? The very idea may seem strange, since this desert animal is usually associated with Africa or Asia. Yet, the species of camels found in Africa and Asia are closely related to the lamoids found in South America. * Unlike their distant relatives, though, South American lamoids have no hump. Furthermore, they are only as tall as an average human and do not reach even the shoulder height of a dromedary or a Bactrian camel.

The best place to catch a glimpse of the South American lamoid is in the Andes Mountains, mainly in Bolivia and Peru. They are also found in other regions of South America, including Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, in Argentina and Chile.

Particularly fascinating are the elegant gait and the speed of these creatures. Just as impressive is the ease with which South American lamoids can climb rocky slopes. Each step is cushioned by special pads, which are superior to state-of-the-art hiking footwear.

 The Andes have sparse grass and thin soil. Still, the hooves of the South American lamoid cause less damage to the ground than those of horses and mules. Additionally, the teeth and palate of these animals allows them to graze without damaging the roots of the grass.

Most animals do not fare well at high elevations. Yet, because of their abundance of red blood cells, South American lamoids can live comfortably even high in the Andes.

Where firewood cannot be found, the dried droppings of the South American lamoid serve as a substitute. And since wild lamoids establish dunghills at the borders of their roaming grounds, it is easy to collect this “firedung.” Unlike a tree, the dung does not have to be felled, and it dries fast in the dry Andean air.

At one time lamoids were used in religious rituals. For example, the Chiribaya in southern Peru would bury sacrificed llamas and alpacas beneath the floor of their houses. Historians claim that every lunar month a hundred specially bred white llamas were sacrificed at Huayaca Pata, the main square of Cuzco, and smaller numbers were sacrificed to the sun-god at the Inti Raymi celebration. Nowadays, lamoids are seldom used in rituals, but their meat​—which tastes like lamb—​is highly valued.

Long before refrigerators came on the scene, the Inca preserved lamoid meat by freeze-drying it, taking advantage of the cold temperature and low air pressure high in the Andes. They called this dry meat ch’arki. In English it is referred to as jerky.

Of course, we should appreciate these beautiful creatures not only because of the services they render but also because they are part of God’s wonderful creation, all of which gives praise to him!​—Psalm 148:10, 13.


^ par. 3 Four types of lamoids reside in South America: alpacas, guanacos, llamas, and vicuñas. They can crossbreed and produce hybrid offspring.

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The Guanaco​—A Resilient and Tenacious Beauty

It might seem that such a beautiful creature of delicate features would need pampering. But guanacos are usually seen in the harshest of lands, from the high Andes to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, in southern Argentina and Chile. In such inhospitable territory, the guanaco eats stems and roots and drinks the water, even if it is of poor quality. The guanaco can swim well and can run at speeds of 40 miles [65 km] an hour. Thick eyelashes provide protection from wind, sun, and dust. Sadly, poachers have avidly hunted the guanaco for its meat, its pelt, and its wool, which is finer than that of the alpaca.

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© Joe McDonald

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The Alpaca​—Bundled Up in Warm Clothing

In a land where cold temperatures prevail and can fluctuate 90 degrees Fahrenheit [50 degrees Celsius] in one day, the alpaca is endowed with a thick, shaggy full-length wool sweater. The soft wool of the alpaca is stronger than sheep’s wool. Although a pointed snout enables the alpaca to reach the blades of Andean grass that grow in narrow crevices between rocks, these cuddly animals prefer swampy areas, which provide tender shoots. However, like other lamoids, they can last many days without water.

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The Vicuña​—Luxuriously Clothed

Although the vicuña lives in the high Andes where near-freezing temperatures prevail, it is comfortably dressed in a short, lightweight coat of what is considered to be the finest animal fiber on earth. Its outfit has a tuft of wool at the front of its chest, which serves as a scarf. An adult vicuña may yield less than two pounds [1 kg] of fleece every two years, so this luxurious fiber is scarce​—and expensive. One yard of fine vicuña fabric can cost more than $3,000.

Under the Inca Empire, laws were made to protect the vicuña. A shearing festival, known as chaccu, was established, and only the royalty had the privilege of wearing garments made with vicuña fiber. The chaccu festival has been reinstated in recent years, and once again laws have been enacted to protect this species from poachers.

As an important part of this festival, wild vicuñas are caught in large funnellike traps 1,000 feet [300 m] wide at the opening. After this the vicuñas are sheared and promptly released.

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© Wilfredo Loayza/PromPerú

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The Llama​—Workhorse of the Andes

It is neither as strong as an ass nor as fast as a horse. Still, the llama outshines them both as a valuable pack animal. Indeed, it can carry up to 130 pounds [60 kg] on its back. If it feels that its load is too heavy, the llama will simply sit and won’t budge until the load is lightened to its liking. If you try to coerce it, the llama may regurgitate food from the first of its three stomachs and spit it out with amazing precision and force.

Yet, llamas are generally docile, and a gentle handler can guide a long train of llamas through inhospitable high plateaus where other pack animals cannot endure the lack of oxygen. The llamas’ capability in mountainous terrain has led to their now being used as pack animals not only in the Andes but also in the Italian Alps. The llama’s rope, harness, and blanket may be made from its own wool.

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© Anibal Solimano/PromPerú

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A recently sheared alpaca

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A baby llama tagged with a tassel

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Map: Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.; llamas: © Alejandro Balaguer/PromPerú