Charismatic Species: Vicugna


The vicuña is a medium-sized ungulate and is the smallest representative of the South American Camelids. Vicuña have been captured, handled and sheared since the 15th century, when the Inca Empire conducted the chaku throughout the Andes of South America. The chaku consisted of herding thousands of animals into stone corrals for shearing. Although large numbers of animals were sheared by this method, the morbidity and mortality probably had little effect on the population viability because the chaku was conducted in the same place only once every four years. However, the precise consequences of this activity are unknown.


THE MACS PROJECT (Vicugna vicugna)

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Our studies began in 1995 with a pilot project aimed at assessing the effects of capture and shearing on the physiology and social organization of vicuña (Bonacic 1996). After the pilot study, further, more extensive studies were conducted between 1997-1998 (Bonacic, 2000). These aimed to assess in more detail, and in different seasons of the year, the effects of capture and shearing on the physiology and ecology of the vicuña.
The studies conducted during my PhD research demonstrated that wild captured juvenile vicuñas held in captivity for 40 days showed initial variation in physical and blood parameters between days 1 to 12 followed by a period of stability between days 13 and 39. The physical and blood parameters obtained from the animals by manual sampling at the end of the captive period (day 39) were considered a proper estimate of baseline values for the species. The mean values reached for each parameter were comparable with normal levels published for domestic South American Camelids and captive-born vicuña. The study therefore provides a set of reference values that can be used to compare physiological responses of wild vicuñas to human induced stressors associated with common management practices.