A typical inhabitant of the Andes, the South American camelid has for the past 6,000 years served as a source of food, clothing and as a beast of burden for Peruvians. Moreover, the animal is a quintessential part of the personality of the highlands, and has wielded a major influence on the serene and contemplative idiosyncrasy of its tamers.
Over the centuries, various Andean cultures have crafted images of llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas, from the cave paintings of Toquepala, depicting hunting scenes, to the more sophisticated Inca pottery. These animals have also formed part of countless ritual ceremonies, whether as sacrificial victims or as companions to their overlords in their tombs. Their origins, however, stem from distant-lands: it is believed that millions of years ago the camelid family inhabited what is now North America. Apparently at some point a group emigrated to Alaska and then over to Siberia, giving rise to the present-day Indo-European camel. Another group then emigrated south, discovering an ideal habitat in the central Andes.
Each of the four species of Andean camelid -whose identical number of chromosomes makes it possible to cross the species- has developed its own characteristics.
The llama, the strongest and appreciated as a pack animal (which can carry up to 60 kg), stands around 1.90 meters tall and comes in a variety of up to 50 colors.
The alpaca, whose fiber is popular in the textile industry, stands 1.50 meters tall. Its meat is also being promoted in the foodstuffs processing industry.
The vicuña, which is smaller (barely 1.30 meters tall) and runs wild, features extremely fine fur which is in such demand that poachers have driven it to the verge of extinction. Today, the animal is protected by the Peruvian State.
Finally, the guanaco is the wildest of the Andean camelids, standing around 1.80 meters tall. It is also found in the highlands of Argentina and Chile.