The Not-So-Big Camelids: Part 2

The last two – and smallest – of “The Not-So-Big Camelids” are the guanaco and vicuña.  They, like their cousins the alpaca and llama, are native to the mountainous regions of South America.  Though in the camelid family and chewers of cud (and let’s not forget spitters, too), they are not camels.

GuanacoGuanaco (Lama guanacoe): The double-coated guanaco (also spelled “huanaco”) stands between 3.5 and 4 feet (107 and 122 cm) at the shoulder and weighs about 200 pounds (90 k).  Guanaco fiber is considered second to only vicuñas with a micron count ranging from 14 to 18.  It has a staple length around 2 inches (5 cm). (Pic source)

vicunaVicuñas (Vicugna vicugna): Vicuñas are smallest member of this group, standing 36 inches (90 cm) high and weighing a little over 100 lbs (50 k). They produce a very valuable fiber (finer and softer than cashmere), and were nearly hunted to extinction 40-50 years ago.  They too are double-coated with a soft undercoat and a longer-haired, harsher outercoat.  Vicuña fibers ranges from 10 to 16 microns (compare to cashmere at 15 to 19 microns), and the staple length of their undercoat is about 1 inch (2.5 cm).  Vicuñas are still poached. (Pic source)

I have never even touched vicuña hair, as years ago a spinning teacher warned that these animals frequently died from shock at shearing or poaching.  I wondered if that were still true, so I checked: According to Sahley, Vargas & Valdivia (2007), “in spring, capture and live shearing of vicuñas can be biologically sustainable” (The Journal for the Society of Conservation Biology, Feb. 21(1):98-105). (For more about these delicate and endangered animals read , “Vicunas: Bearers of the Golden Fleece.”)


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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16 Responses to The Not-So-Big Camelids: Part 2

  1. Jolanda V says:

    There are some vicunas in the zoo very close to where I live. In springtime, they like to rub against the fence and leave little bits of hair for the discerning fiber picker! It is SOOOOO soft. Makes me dream about applying for the job of vicuna keeper, of course slowly gaining their trust, until they would let me comb out their winter hair. Oh it is the softest fiber I’ve ever touched!


  2. HannahDavis says:

    Yes that’s pretty handy, thanks!


  3. Yes, they are still around. Their fiber is said to be amazing, but I’ve stayed away from it after a fiber class decades ago where the instructor said that vicunas usually dye in the process of having their fur taken from them. However, what I recently found indicates that it can be done humanely … so perhaps there’s some sort of indicator that those who raise vicunas can give their consumers. ?


  4. Thank you for reading. I agree; humans have a potential for far ranging between cruelty and kindness, whether as individuals or in institutions. 😦


  5. I wonder what the neighborhood zoning laws are … :/


  6. Thank you for reading … I enjoy writing them!


  7. I will look into that when I have a moment … I do try to put them each in a “fiber” category though. Does that help?


  8. I thought the same thing about the guanacos!


  9. Apparently there is “sustainable” vicuna gathering … that’s probably what we fiber lusters need to look for. 🙂


  10. Jenny says:

    Wow, the poor vicuña! You said they were hunted to extinction but then said they are still poached, so are they still around? I’m passionate about animal welfare, so thanks for forcing me to think about the animal welfare of the animals who’s fibre is used in knitting.


  11. What a lovely, entertaining and thought provoking post. I am amazed at how cruelty/kindness can be so extreme in us humans. I chose the kind camp.


  12. I always learn something coming to this blog! A vicuna is no bigger than a small child, I guess. That’s interesting…


  13. Northern Narratives says:

    Very interesting. I love reading these posts.


  14. HannahDavis says:

    These fiber posts are SO informative! Might I make a request that, perhaps, you could make a page with all the links to these fiber posts and put that page on your menu bar? I’m thinking that, when I want to reference these in the future, it would be easy to have them on the menu bar instead of searching through your other lovely posts. I’d understand if you don’t want to do that, for whatever reason. It’d just be handy, that’s all. 🙂


  15. Poor little things and then to be completely irreverent, don’t guanacos sound like something to do with bats?! Fascinating. 🙂


  16. Pearl says:

    Awww…I feel so sorry for the little Vicuna that my fiber-lust is almost gone.


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