What are Llamas?

Guanaco

Vicuna

Alpaca

Llama

Camel

  Llamas and their relatives are no strangers to our land.  Llamas are members of the camelid family, which at one time thrived on the plains of North America.  With the Ice Age, llamas became extinct in North America.  Llamas migrated to South America and took up residence in the land of the Andean Mountains. 
     In the highlands of Peru, some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, llamas were domesticated, placing them among the oldest domestic animals in the world.  The llama was the lifeline of the Inca Indians of South America.  Called their "silent brother" by the Incas, the llama was worshipped and highly regarded.  The llama was their beast of burden, the source of clothing and a source of food as well as fuel.  
     In the late 1800s and early 1900s, private animal collectors and zoos reintroduced llamas to their original North American homeland.  Today there are an estimated seven million llamas and alpacas in South America (in approximately equal numbers) and some 80,000 to 100,000 llamas in the United States and Canada.   
     Llamas started to become popular in the United States when an Oregon couple (Kay Sharpnack & her former husband Dick Patterson) decided to promote them as domestic livestock and made them available to the general public.  Little was known at the time of the many functions that we would later find they served.     

Guanaco
(Courtesy of Animal Plant - Mammal Guide)

Guanacos are usually found in small herds or loosely structured family groups.

When a member of the herd picks up the slightest hint of danger, it makes a high-pitched warning call, causing the other guanacos to flee swiftly and nimbly across the steep and uneven terrain.

Guanacos generally live at high elevations, grazing on grasses and browsing on leaves and buds.

They can get by without water for long periods of time, obtaining moisture from the plants they eat.

The young play and romp, but when confronted by an adult male they will lay their neck on the ground in submission.

The guanaco is one of the largest wild mammals in South America, and the puma is its only significant natural predator.

Classified as endangered in Chile and Peru, its numbers in Chile appear to be increasing.


VICUNAS ARE THE SMALLEST OF PERU’S CAMELIDS

Vicuña

One of two wild camelids in South America, the vicuña is the smallest of the bunch. They reach a maximum height of 2.5 to 2.8 feet at the shoulder and weigh in at just 77 to 140 pounds when full grown.  Living in the windswept high alpine regions of Peru (11,500 to 18,850 feet above sea-level), the vicuña were almost hunted to extinction during colonial rule. Recently they have reached a much healthier population thanks to local conservation efforts.

Vicuña wool is extremely fine and soft but it’s a rare commodity and some of the most expensive wool in the world. This is due to the fact that they have to be caught from the wild and can only be shorn every three years. So it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any vicuña blankets as you haggle your way through Peru’s tourist markets.

Nor will you find them on the menu. And you may not even see one as you travel around Peru. These are shy creatures that are easily perturbed by humans and the unknown threat they present thanks to their remarkable hearing. But at least now you know what they look like, just in case you do bump into one.

Alpaca

Like llamas, alpacas have also been domesticated for centuries but for a very different purpose. Thanks to their one fine single coat, alpacas have been bred specifically to produce wool. Their wool fibres are used to create a variety of goods from blankets to jumpers, gloves to ponchos – a favourite among travellers in Peru.

Alpaca wool produces extremely soft and luxurious fleece. It’s what also makes the animals look like fluffy teddy bears. Alpaca fibre is world-renowned for its quality and can fetch exorbitant prices internationally. It’s a top buy in Peru where prices are far more reasonable. Baby alpaca wool provides the softest touch and earns the highest prices.

Much smaller than their counterparts, alpacas only reach heights of up to 1.5 metres tall at the ears. Their ears are also much smaller than a llama’s and shaped like a triangular spear-head. The physical difference between an alpaca and a llama is even more noticeable from the side – alpacas have a much flatter face with a tiny snout.


WILD LLAMAS CAN OFTEN BE FOUND ROAMING THE GROUNDS OF MACHU PICCHU

Llama

Ever seen a picture of Machu Picchu with animals in the foreground? Animals that resemble a cross between a woolly sheep and a camel? That will be a llama. The domesticated South American camelid has been used in Peru as a pack animal for some 5,000 years. And it’s an animal that you’ll bump into countless times on a visit to the country.

They grow to heights of up to 6 to 7 feet tall at the top of the head with a weight of between 250-450 lbs. Looking at a llama front on you’ll notice that their ears are curved, like the shape of a banana. It’s an easy way of telling them apart from their cousins that have straighter shaped ears.

Llamas also have longer faces than alpacas and vicuñas, best demonstrated from the side. Another distinguishing feature is their coarse outer coats that cover a softer second coat underneath. This gives them a shaggy appearance similar to a sheep. Today's llama breeders are producing incredibly soft and silky fiber on their llamas.

Llamas are still used as pack animals today thanks to their larger size.


6 Differences Between Llamas and Alpacas

SEP 25, 2015Andrew Amelinckx

At first glance, alpacas may resemble their larger camelid cousin the llama, but they are quite different.

WikimediaPhotography14KSHARES
  1. Their ears: Alpaca ears have short spear-shaped ears while llamas have much longer, banana-shaped ears.
  2. Their size: Alpacas generally weigh in at around 150 pounds while llamas can get as heavy as 400 pounds. At the shoulder, an average alpaca stands between 34 and 36 inches, while a llama generally ranges between 42 and 46 inches.
  3. Their faces: Llamas have a longer face; an alpaca’s face is a bit more blunt, giving them a “smooshed in” look.
  4. Their purpose: For more than 5,000 years alpacas have been bred for fiber (and in Peru for meat as well), while llamas have been bred for the same amount of time as pack animals and meat.
  5. Their hair: The alpaca produces a much finer fiber than the llama. The alpaca also produces more fleece than its larger cousin and in a much greater variety of colors. Llamas also generally do not have as much hair on their head and face as alpacas do.
  6. Their dispositions: Alpacas are very much herd animals, while llamas are more independent minded. Alpacas also tend to be a bit more skittish than llamas, which are often used as guard animals for alpacas, sheep, and other small livestock.

Sources: openherd.comlifeandscience.orgmountairyalpacas.commarylandalpacas.org

People have kept camels for more than 4,000 years and still depend on them for survival all over the world. !

  1. There are two types of camels: One humped or “dromedary” camels and two humped Bactrian camels.

  2. Camels have three sets of eyelids and two rows of eyelashes to keep sand out of their eyes.

  3. Camels have thick lips which let them forage for thorny plants other animals can’t eat.

  4. Camels can completely shut their nostrils during sandstorms.

  5. Thanks to thick pads of skin on their chest and knees, camels can comfortably sit in very hot sand.

  1. Their humps let them store up to 80 pounds of fat which they can live off for weeks and even months!

  2. When a camel finally does find water, he can drink up to 40 gallons in one go.

  3. Camels are very strong and can carry up to 900 pounds for 25 miles a day.

  4. Camels can travel at up to 40 miles per hour – the same as a racehorse!

  5. Don’t make a camel angry – they can spit as a way to distract whatever they think is a threat

  1. Mother camels carry their calves up to 14 months before giving birth.

  2. Some calves are born completely white and turn brown as their adult coat comes in.

  3. There are over 160 words for camel in Arabic alone.