Spoiler alert! If you decide to join us on our Ecuador programs you WILL encounter some of the cutest most lovable animals of all time. Alpacas!! Those that know me well know that Alpacas are some of my favorite animals, and when I see them up close I pretty much go into a tailspin. It’s safe to say that working with the Alpaca communities in the Highlands of Ecuador is my favorite part of the program.
During our last adventure through Ecuador I realized not everyone shared my obsession with Alpacas. Thus most knew little about Camelids, the classification of the family of animals known as Alpacas, Llamas, Camels, Vicuñas and Guanacos. Camelidae, if you will. These five species are found in two groups: Camels in Asia and Africa and the rest in South America. Although there are no living species of camelidae in North America, it has been thought that the species migrated through land bridges to Asia some 3 million years ago- separating what we know now as Camels from their Camelid counterparts. Llamas and Alpacas were domesticated about 5,000 years ago. Llamas are mainly pack animals that can carry up to 30% of their body weight while Alpacas are bred primarily for their soft fiber.
Similarities between the species include:
- They are Herbivores.
- Have a split upper lip.
- Long necks with small heads.
- Long legs with padded feet and two toes.
- All but camels are native to the Andes.
- Social animals that live in herds.
- They spit!
- They can live on little water.
Most importantly, the differences will help you identify which species you are looking at. Most of these animals can look similar to the untrained eye. Memorize these and on your next trip to the Andes you will wow your friends with your identifying abilities!
Some noteworthy differences are:
- Llamas and Alpacas are domesticated while Guanacos and Vicuñas are wild.
- Camels are the largest of the family and live only in Asia and Africa and have humps.
- In the Andes region, the Llama is the largest, then Alpacas and Guanacos and the smallest is the Vicuña which averages at about 3 feet tall.
- Llama ears are long and slightly curved inward.
- Guanacos are mainly reddish and brown in color.
- Alpacas are blessed with fluffy, soft fleece while Llamas tend to have longer, shaggier fleece.
- About 80% of Vicuñas live in Peru.
- Vicuñas have long white chest hair.
But wait! There's more fun facts! Did you know?????
- Llamas are great guard animals for livestock.
- Llamas give birth standing!
- When Alpacas feel threatened they make a high-pitched, noisy inhalation.
- Alpaca meat was once considered a delicacy in the Andes. Gasp!
- You can house train an Alpaca: normally they all poop in the same spot!
- A teaspoon of Guanaco blood contains four times the amount of red blood cells than human blood! That is why they can live at such high elevation.
- During Incan times it was considered against the law for anyone to kill a Vicuña or wear its fleece other than Incan royalty.
- Vicuña wool is also highly sought after and scarfs can cost upwards of $1,500 USD.
So there you go. Now you have the inside scoop on Camelids. On our programs in Ecuador we work with Alpacas and also see Guanacos and Vicuñas in the wild. At our lodge 13,000 feet in the Ecuadorian Andes, there are 200 free-roaming Alpacas! It's an incredible sight to see and to photograph.
We work closely with Paqocha, an organization that is working to restore Alpacas to this region and training indigenous communities on how to breed, care for, shear and spin the fleece in order to revive this once sustainable livelihood.
Whether or not you choose to come with Purposeful Nomad and see them UP CLOSE and IN PERSON, I hope you grow to love them and appreciate them as much as I do! I leave you with one last heart-melting photo: