PAMPAS GALERAS NATIONAL RESERVE
AND THE VICUÑA
"Pampa Galeras National Reserve", created in 1967, is a zone famous for its protection of the vicuña. Its 6,500 hectares are located in the province of Lucanas, Region of Ayacucho, Peru, but its area of influence covers more than 60,000 ha and includes a considerable number of peasant communities. The Reserve itself comprises lands owned by the peasant community of Lucanas.
The vegetation characteristic of the Reserve is grassland, consisting of various species of Poaceae such as Festuca sp., Stipa ichu and Calamagrostis sp. These plants grow in large groups among which are scattered species of bushes and upright shrubs such as the tola (Lepidophyllum quadrangulare) and Senecio sp. In the stony valleys it is possible to find remnant forests of queñual (Polylepis sp.) and butterfly bush (Buddleja sp.).
In 1965, in Peru, a vicuña protection program was launched to combat the constant indiscriminate hunting, and it was set up precisely in Pampa Galeras, with park-wardens and continuous patrols. After 15 years of effective protection, the population of vicuñas had recovered and reached the number of 52,000 animals in the Reserve and its surrounding area. By 1980 there were about 75,000 vicuñas in the whole of Peru.
This miracle was possible thanks to the conjunction of various factors like the control of poaching, the prohibition of the international trade in vicuña fiber, and obtaining technical and financial assistance to support the activities through an agreement signed in 1969 by the Andean countries (renewed in 1979).
In such inhospitable High Andes places, where grasslands and feather grass abound, lives the vicuña, the only native breed of animal perfectly adapted to the rigors of this region. This camelid can measure 80 or 90 cm in height, and 1.60 or 1.75 meters in length, with a brown upper part of the back and sides; its chest is white, and its fiber, or the wool taken from it, is considered the finest in the world. It is perfectly suited to the Puna, an eco-region of the Andes between 3,800 and 5,200 m above sea level. Peru is the country with the greatest number of these animals (142,000 according to the 2001 census), but vicuñas also live in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.
A kilo of its cinnamon-colored fiber costs 308 dollars on the international market because of its fineness and insulating properties, providing warmth even with very low temperatures. Between 200 and 300 grams of wool can be obtained from each animal. Its blood has 14 million red globules per cubic millimeter, which helps it use the reduced amount of oxygen present in the air.
Its scientific name is "Vicugna Vicugna". It is a mammal belonging to the "artiodactyla" order and the "camelidae" family. It is exclusively herbivorous, and its diet consists of the grasses it finds among the reeds and in the grasslands.
The females have a single offspring, born after an 11 month gestation, between December and April, and particularly in February. After the birth, the lactation lasts nearly six months. The females spend this period with their young, while the male stands watch.
The vicuña is wild, gregarious and territorial, and three distinct groups exist:
1. The family group consisting of one male "Jainacho", an average of four females and the young of that year. The family male defends his territory against other family males and the male young. The male offspring are expelled from the group when eight months old.
2. The young males that have not reached the age for reproduction form groups that may reach 200 individuals. In over-populated zones they form wandering herds that migrate over wide areas, in permanent conflict with the family males.
3. Solitary vicuñas are, in general, old family males driven out of their territories.
The vicuña lives in the high Andes ecosystem of the Puna, from 4,000 m up to 5,200 m above sea level. Vicuñas can be found in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. Peru's 142,000 animals are distributed mainly from the central hills to the southern hills of Puno and Tacna.
The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) is the most representative and abundant species in Pampa Galeras and its protection and conservation were the reason for the creation of this Reserve. Another important species is the guanaco (Lama guanicoe), which, like the vicuña, is one of the South American camelids that is found in a wild state. Other mammals present on the Reserve are: the colpeo fox or atocc (Pseudalopex culpaeus), the northern viscacha (Lagidium peruanum), the huemul (Hippocamelus antisensis), the opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) and the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata).
Every year, from June 22nd to 24th, the International Vicuña Festival is celebrated in Lucanas, Ayacucho, and one part of this is the ancestral chaccu, which is the annual vicuña shearing, practiced by the members of the commune of Pampa Galeras National Reserve. They are organized by the National Council for South-American Camelids (CONACS), the Lucanas Peasant Community and its district municipality. Both events aim to enhance the value of the vicuña as a national resource and reassert the peasant customs, values and practices of the High Andes communities connected with this fine South American camelid, with music, dancing and typical dishes leading up to the central activity of the celebrations: the chaccu, i.e., the herding, capturing and shearing of the vicuñas.
Their protection from illegal hunting is under the care of the peasant communities, whose members are constantly trained by the CONACS.