Land of the Llama

Two Who Trek see their favorite animals

You’ve previously read in our posts that no ruin is complete without a llama.  Now that we’re back from the land of the llama and fully immersed in the day-to-day, it’s time to reflect and share some things we didn’t have time to write about during our last week in Cuenca.

Llamas are members of the Camelidae family along with camels.  Scientists tell us that camelids have been around for about 45 million years.  About 10,000 years ago, llamas and alpacas were domesticated for food, clothing and transportation.  Unlike cattle which are thought to have a common ancestor, llamas are believed to be domesticated from guanacos and alpacas from vicunas.

Andean camelids are uniquely adapted to their environs for several reasons.  First, foraging by chewing rather than pulling grass up by the roots keeps grazing areas sustainable.  Second, the herbivores digest grasses about 25% more efficiently than sheep.  Third, two-toed feet with toenails and a soft footpad help the camelids grip the ground on steep, rocky terrain; they do not have hooves. Old toenails fall off and are used for chakchas, a traditional Andean percussion instrument that makes a sound like the rain or wind.  Soft foot pads also enable them to walk more gently over grasslands and do not cause erosion like sharp hooved cows or sheep.  Finally, the four camelids are able to live in different Andean climate zones and do not compete with each other for food.  For example, llamas prefer mountainsides, alpacas like wetlands and humid areas, while vicuñas like high and dry regions.  Guanacos are the only camelid that can live at sea level and in the high-altitude Andes.

A vicuna in Peru

A 2006 vicuna in Peru

When visiting Peru in 2006, we saw representatives of all four Andean camelids.  It is estimated that 90% of the world’s alpacas, 82% of the vicuñas, and 26% of the llamas live in Peru. Roughly 80% of the world’s guanacos live in Patagonia. Ecuador has alpacas and llamas, but no vicuñas or guanacos were seen.

Guanacos penned in Peru in 2006

Guanacos penned in Peru in 2006

How can you tell them apart?  They all lie down by resting their knees with their legs tucked underneath the body because their hinds limbs are attached to the body at the top of the thigh only, instead of attached by skin and muscle downwards from the knee.  It makes sense when you think about it.

Llama at El Crater Restaurant, Quito

Llama at El Crater Restaurant, Quito

Llamas are the largest of the four and either of us can look them directly in the eye. Alpacas are cute and cuddly as crias or babies and when grown are a foot or two smaller than llamas, with a shorter neck.  Both can wear coats of many colors. Their wild and endangered cousins do not have the color variations.  Guanacos have a coarse reddish-brown coat and a soft white underside.  They are almost as large as llamas.  Vicuñas are more delicate in appearance having long chest hairs historically hand –pulled for weaving into Inca emperor’s clothing.  They are the smallest of the four at about four feet in height and about 88 pounds.

Llama at Pumapungo in the heart of Cuenca

Llama at Pumapungo in the heart of Cuenca

Of the four, Two Who Trek (TWT) have met more llamas.  Calm, intelligent and very social, TWT has a lot in common with the delightful creatures.  There is however, one difference beyond the obviously curly ears.  TWT prefers walking away to spitting, when encountering annoying individuals!

Here are some of the camelids we saw during our Ecuadorian trip:

Can you find all three llamas?

Can you find all three llamas?

Llamas on the move

Llamas on the move

Ingapirca llamas

Ingapirca llamas

Llamas in the heart of Cuenca

Llamas in the heart of Cuenca

Two friendly llamas, doing what comes naturally

Two friendly llamas, doing what comes naturally

Ingapirca llama

Ingapirca llama

There's a llama in the road.  His brain is squirming like a toad. If you give this mammal a ride, sweet memories will die.  Llama in the road.

There’s a llama in the road. His brain is squirming like a toad. If you give this mammal a ride, sweet memories will die. Llama in the road.

Llamas in Cajas National Park

Llamas in Cajas National Park

Llamas in the road, on both sides

Llamas in the road, on both sides

Llamas at Cajas National Park

Llamas at Cajas National Park

Llama at Pumapungo in the heart of Cuenca

Llama at Pumapungo in the heart of Cuenca

Categories: andean, animals, archeological, blog, camelid, Cuenca, ecuador, inca, llama, mountain, photos, ruins, travel, wool | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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