Guanacos of the Reserva

The harsh environment of the Patagonia Steppes causes guanacos to grow a dense coat of high quality wool, the finest natural fiber known to man. 

wild guanacos

Camel-like animals that live in South America

There are four camel-like animals that live in South America – guanacos and vicuñas, which are wild, and llamas and alpacas, which are domesticated.  Scientists call these animals “camelids”.    

GuanacoGuanacos in particular live in hostile, arid environments along the lower slopes of the Andes Mountains from Peru south to Tierra del Fuego.    A century ago there were 70 million guanacos – now there are about 700,000 – only 1% of the original population.  Illegal hunting and loss of habitat are the two principle causes of the decline. 

The majority of the surviving animals live in Argentina - in Patagonia.  Guanacos are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  This listing means that trade in guanaco yarn and fiber is only permitted if the appropriate government body certifies that the merchandise was produced in a sustainable way without damage to the animal population.  All legal sales of guanaco products must be accompanied by a CITES certificate.

guanacoGuanacos live in small family groups led by a territorial male.  A large male can weigh 300 pounds.  They are migratory and travel large distances throughout the year, moving from breeding areas to rearing areas and wintering locations.  The females give birth to a single baby once per year; the young are called “chulengos”.  The adults bestow a significant amount of parental care rearing the young.  Apart from illegal hunting and competition with domestic sheep and goats, the greatest source of mortality is predation by pumas.  But guanacos are well suited to escape as they are vigilant and extremely fast runners up to 40 miles per hour.  Guanacos are not suitable for captive breeding programs due to their wild nature and their need to migrate through inhospitable and remote environments.  Captive breeding of guanacos amounts to nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment.

Guanacos are well adapted to live in the delicate environment of the Patagonia Steppe.  Their hooves are soft and padded and, unlike sheep and goats whose hooves are hard and sharp, guanacos cause no damage to the fragile soils of Patagonia.   Guanacos satisfy their need for water by grazing on the lowguanacos herbaceous bushes found in Southern Argentina.  Unlike domestic livestock which rip out entire plant roots and all while feeding, guanacos do not kill the plants on which they feed – instead they remove only a small quantity of leaves from each plant and the plant is left intact. 

The harsh environment in which wild guanacos live causes the animals to grow a dense coat of high quality wool.  Together with the vicuña, guanaco fiber is the finest natural fiber known to man.  There are two layers of wool in the fleece of a guanaco.  There is an outer coarse layer of “guard hairs” which are not suitable for spinning and knitting.  Underneath is a layer of downy soft wool.   Guanaco wool is substantially softer and more luxurious than fiber from domesticated sheep, llama, alpaca, musk ox, cashmere goats, or rabbits. 

rock art of guanacos