Photo by Gato andino.
Vicuña, the very word evokes images of exotic luxury. Fleet footed, endangered, poached for their cinnamon colored fiber the vicuña has been a symbol of the spirit of the Andes. Perseverance in the face of adversity. Since the vicuña is no longer endangered in all parts of its current range, roundups called chacus are held to shear the vicuñas. This serves as a source of income for local community development as well as to discourage poaching of these animals. This diminutive animal only stands about 3 foot at the shoulder and is dual coated with a coarser outer coat and superfine undercoat.
Now that vicuña is now considered threatened in some locations rather than endangered the Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora (CITES ) allows the sale of vicuña fiber and items made with vicuña from specific localities. Each item sold should include a CITES certificate stating origin. The fiber is very fine 6-10 microns. In comparison qiviut is 11-13 microns and angora rabbit is 13 microns.
All of the above micron counts come from the British Wool Board.
Photo by static-photo.
Guanaco is to the llama what vicuña is to the alpaca. Unlike its cousin, the guanaco is an threatened rather than an endangered species, and even locally abundant in Tierra Del Fuego. But because its numbers are not as low, guanacos are not protected like the vicuña is.
Photo by crookrw.
Yeah, they can be a pest to ranchers. Fences are no barrier to them and the ranchers view them as carrying disease and compete with the sheep and cattle for precious resources.
Like the vicuña, guanacos are double coated. The dehaired undercoat ranges from 14-18 microns and has a length of 1.5″ to 2″. There are some domestic herds of guanacos and much of the fiber available to handspinners are from them. Obviously these farms have very tall fences. The guanaco is smaller than its domesticated brother, the llama, standing at about 4 feet tall a the shoulder. It also does not have the special history of use in Peru that the vicuña has. In fact, Andezoo, who makes stuffed toys of all four South American camelids, portrays Ayak Guanaco as grumpy, tough as nails character.
Photo by mimsical.
Paco-vicuñas are alpacas with vicuña-like traits. Some breeders in the United States have taken vicuñas and bred them to alpaca or vicuña-like alpacas. Farms are breeding for the coat traits of the vicuña while (hopefully) keeping the advantageous traits of the alpaca. Since the alpaca is believed to be a domesticated vicuña subspecies, there should not be any changes as was seen in tame silver foxes that ruined the coats for use by furriers. It is possible to concentrate the vicuña characteristics by careful line breeding.
A handful of farms in the United states are breeding these animals. Some farms admit that some of these animals are crossbreeds, others are more evasive about the origin of their animals. Fiber for handspinning is available through many of these.
In November of 2007 there was a statement issued by all the Andean countries with populations of vicuñas condemning the creation of of paco-vicuñas and that paco-vicuñas should be treated like vicuñas, not domesticated alpacas (Hoffman, Eric “The Comeback Camelid.” Wild Fibers.vol 5, issue 1, pgs 46-56). Because of this it will be interesting to see what happens to the development of herds in the USA. I did notice that Northwest Alpacas no longer has a link to their “Vicuña Collection”. I did still find a dead link to it from this page.
Next we will look at samples of each…which gives me an excuse to go to The Fold.