What Are The Four New World Cameloid Species?


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Patricia Devereux Profile
All South American cameloids derive from the wild guanaco (Lama guanicoe), an ungulate the size of a large dog. Guanacos live at the highest altitude of any species -- up to 16,000 feet in the Andes mountains.
All New World cameloids have long, supple necks; slender legs; padded, cloven feet; large round eyes; and dense, tawny coats.
Indigenous people began breeding guanacos for superior size and weight, and over 6,000 years, three more independent species resulted: vicuña, alpaca, and llama.
The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) weighs up to 100 pounds, and at just three feet high, is the smallest of the llama family. Vicuñas produce small amounts of very expensive, extremely fine wool, and can only be shorn every three years. During Inca times, it was illegal for anyone but royalty to wear garments made of vicuña wool.
Since the time of the Incas, vicuñas have been protected by law. In 1960 there were only about 6,000 vicuñas in the wild due to uncontrolled poaching, but they are making a comeback.
The alpaca (Llama pacos) is a domesticated, 150-pound, stocky cameloid with silky, fine fur, which is spun then woven into expensive garments. They have a patch of dense fur on their heads like a cap.
The llama (Lama glama) is the largest of the cameloids, weighing up to 200 pounds. While they are not strong enough for a person to ride, they can carry heavy loads. Andean Indians were so dependent on them they called them "little brother" and the "ship of the Andes."
The fabled Inca roads were nothing but footpaths for humans and llamas; there were no wheeled vehicles in pre-Columbia America, except on toys. Sure- and padded-footed llamas could walk on stones that horses could not, and this is one of the reasons the Spanish did not discover Machu Picchu.
In the altiplano of the Andes, it is a common sight to see young children herding the family llama, which sports bright-coloured wool tassels in its ears.

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