While guanacos are believed to be the wild ancestors of llamas, alpacas are most likely descended from vicuñas.
Similar to the comparison between alpacas and llamas, vicuñas are smaller and more graceful than their guanaco cousins. At the shoulder they only stand about 3 feet high and they are on average, 150 pounds. But like the guanacos, they only come in one color variety. Their backs have long tawny brown hair while the throat and chest have even longer white hair. Vicuña ears are longer than guanacos, but certainly not as long as the llamas.
Vicuña fiber is a prized possession. In recognition of this, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru standing proudly in the Peruvian coat of arms. In fact, the Incas (who bred out llamas and alpacas from their wild ancestors) only allowed royalty to wear garments made from vicuñas. The fiber is the finest among all of the cousins, producing an extremely soft and luxurious but warm product. It is also the most expensive! A vicuña scarf can cost $1,500. Vicuñas can only be shorn once every three years and they are wild; they are rounded up every year and any with fur longer than 2.5 cm are shorn.
Similar to the guanaco, conservation efforts are needed to protect the vicuña. In 1974, their population dwindled to about 6,000 animals. Luckily, the population has rebounded to about 350,000.
Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge! My theme for this year: Llama mama. V for Vicuña
Photo courtesy of Thomas Quine.