Charismatic Species: Guanaco

The guanaco (Lama guanicoe, Muller 1776) is one of the two wild South American camelids (infraorder Tylopoda, family Camelidae) (Franklin, 1982) that currently inhabit Chile. The guanaco is smaller than the Llama, weighing as an adult between 120 and 130 kg. (Redford and Eisenberg, 1992). It is a sexually monomorphic animal, of a long neck and legs, with a coat ranging from reddish to yellowish brown, a grey to black head, and white belly and inner legs (Wheeler, 1995).Originally the guanaco was distributed along the whole southern cone of America from 8° S to 55° S (Franklin, 1982).


There are four sub-species according to morphological characteristics: (1) Lama guanicoe cacsilensis, found within the high Andes of Peru, northern Chile and Bolivia; (2) Lama guanicoe huanacus restricted to the north and central region of Chile; (3) Lama guanicoe voglii concentrated in the S-W of Bolivia, N-W of Paraguay and the east slope of the Andes; and (4) Lama guanicoe guanicoe which inhabits the patagonia and Tierra del Fuego (Wheeler, 1995). Recent molecular studies has shown that Lama guanicoe is a monophyletic group where the specimens of L. g. guanicoe from Torres del Paine National Park and Tierra del Fuego belong to a single taxa (Palma pers comm.) The guanaco has adapted to live in different kind of habitats and under different degrees of human pressure (Puig, 1995a; Bonacic et al., 1996;Puig and Videla, 2000). It is found in environments such as open arid (Mann et al., 1953), and semi-arid areas (Raedeke and Simonetti, 1988), mountain range zones (Puig, 1995a; Bonacic et al., 1996), steppe and open template forests (Raedeke, 1982; Skewes et al., 2000). It is a gregary animal with a polygenic reproduction system. The main social units include family group (a male with several females and their offspring), solitary males (defending a territory without females) and bachelor males (non territorial) (Franklin, 1983). Nevertheless, it is also possible to find groups of females (with or without offspring) in year-round residential populations as well as mixed groups (both sexes and different ages) in migratory populations (Ortega and Franklin, 1995).
The guanaco was widely utilised by the indigenous cultures throughout its entire range of distribution (Franklin et al., 1997). With the intensification of the farming activity, the reduction of the habitat and the hunting pressure upon the species (Raedeke, 1978), populations decreased in number and their distribution was reduced over 70% (Franklin et al., 1997). During the 70’s a conservation programme for the guanaco in the XII region of Chile was and extended to the rest of the country during the 1980s. The population tripled in the XII region within two decades (Bonacic et al., 1995). These results contributed to the inclusion of the guanaco in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES (Ojasti, 1993). Together with this increment in the guanaco populations, there has also been an increased interest on research related to their productive potential mainly aimed at the use of its meat and fibre.