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Taking good care of our fauna: the importance of llamas and alpacas for Andean herders

Taking good care of our fauna: the importance of llamas and alpacas for Andean herders

28 March 2019

Andean culture is intimately connected to the breeding and herding of llamas and alpacas, two of the four camelid species endemic to the Andes Mountains.

These beautiful animals, distantly related to camels, were domesticated centuries ago by early migrants to the region.

Two other camelid species, Andean vicuñas and guanacos, were not domesticated and today live wild in high mountain wilderness areas of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.

Andean Herders and their relationship with the Andean Fauna

For centuries, traditional Andean herders have bred and cared for llamas and alpacas for their meat, to harvest their wool for textiles and clothing, and in the case of the sturdier llamas, for transporting goods across the region, often in caravans.

Such important uses over time have created close, mutually beneficial relationships between Andean herding communities and their animals.

Andean herders dedicate their energy and time to caring for their llamas and alpacas, just as good traditional shepherds care for their sheep and cowboys care for their cattle.

What makes llamas ideal for transporting goods and baggage? For one, these placid animals are sure-footed and easy to handle on mountain paths.

Although they can’t quite carry the weight of an adult human, they can handle substantial loads and travel long distances with little difficulty. They are fully adapted to the weather and ecological conditions of the Andes.

The wool of llamas and alpacas is a valuable resource for traditional weavers and clothes makers.

Alpaca wool is especially in demand for its softness and warmth. “Baby alpaca” wool from younger animals is the material of choice for beautiful sweaters, coats and scarves that found in chic Cusco clothing boutiques and in demand from international fashion catalogues.

Llama wool, of a rougher texture, is much less used for spinning yarn and weaving.

However, as modern life encroaches upon native Andean communities, the practice of llama herding is gradually becomes less prevalent.

As synthetic textiles and modern transportation slowly replace traditional native uses of these animals, in some areas a primordial way of life that is closely attuned to the natural environment is slowly beginning to vanish.

Our commitment with herders

At Andean Lodges we greatly appreciate and admire the traditional way of life of Andean llama herders, and we are working together to help preserve this venerable practice.

In the magnificent landscape around Mt. Ausangate, llama herding has persisted for centuries in our local partner communities of Chilca and Osefina

On each our Ausangate trekking programs, visitors are sure to see dozens, if not hundreds, of llamas and alpacas grazing calmly in the meadows alongside the trails.

And a caravan of these lovely animals accompanies each group of our visiting trekkers, carrying our baggage and gear from lodge to lodge, all led and very well cared for by the native Quechua native herders that own them.

If you’ve never met a llama up close and personal, you certainly will have that opportunity on an Andean Lodges trek around Ausangate, the sacred mountain that protects the people and waters of this spectacular region of the Andes.

Bring your camera, it’s your best chance to take cool selfies with your new Andean llama and alpaca friends!

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