Vicuña | Ancestor of the alpaca and ultimate softness

The Vicuña (Vicuña) is the ancestor of alpaca. It still remains in its natural environment. What makes the vicuña such an interesting animal?

It is one of the animals that has the softest fibre in the world; 10-13 microns; It's sweeter than the current alpaca. Its fleece is even more wanted than alpaca and the fiber articles of Vicuña (also called carmeline) are excessively expensive!

A sweater sells about $4 200 CDN, a coat $44 000 CDN and a scarf $1 700 CDN !!! This is due to the quality of the fiber, obviously, but also to its rarity since it is only available in very small quantities.

The Vicuña

Smaller than alpaca (1,30m to the head for 1, 50m in alpaca) and also more delicate. Still brown in colour, it has the belly, the underside of the tail and the inside of the legs rather whitish.

Its fiber is much shorter than alpaca (about 3 cm), which is equivalent to about 250g to 400g of fibre per animal (of which 150g of very high quality that can be transformed... we are far from the 5lbs of the alpaca !).

There are some regional differences, since in Argentina some vicuñas have a slightly clearer and longer fibre, but less on the animal.

The Vicuña lives in high altitude, on the Andean plateaus. The wild groups consist of about 20 individuals who come together at night; A male, females and their cubs. The babies of the vicuña remains one year with the group before being hunted by male to join other groups; It avoids inbreeding.

Passed by to extinguish forty years ago with only 5000 to 6000 remaining heads, the population is now about 220 000 specimens, the majority of which is in Peru in areas more than 3500 meters above sea level. It is estimated that at the time of the Incas, the population reached more than one million people ! The vicuña was at that time mostly hunted for its meat and for its leather from which the fiber was shear. The man is his main predator with the Puma and the Condor.

Protected since 1976 and banned from hunting because of the rapid decay of the populations, the trade of the fiber of the vicuña was also stopped and finally resumed its course in 2002 with stricter rules, protected areas, care to animals and censuses.

Vicuña males fightIllegal hunting

Nowadays, this little camelid is still a victim of illegal hunting and this one cause problems in the populations. More than 5000 vicuñas are estimated to have been killed for their fiber over the last eight years (from 2008-2016).

Some Latin American countries do not recognise illegal hunting as a serious offence and do not encourage compliance with the species Protection Act.

For their part, the local people, for fear of reprisals, do not denounce to the authorities the illegal hunters who kill to shear the vicuñas.

The numbers to protect the breed are insufficient and the geographical characteristics of the regions do not help either. Representatives of protection groups were even threatened in 2017 by illegal hunters; It's a tough game. And as illegal hunting is profitable... all the incentives are there for the hunters to continue their massacre!

The authorities still find groups of 100-200 Vicuñas slaughtered and shear periodically.

Chaccu

Traditionally, Vicuña is captured alive and shear by the natives every 2 to 3 years in what is called the CHACCU (annual) where wild herds are folded to pens before being shear and released. Ceremonies and parties are part of the CHACCU. This traditional hunting is encouraged by the authorities that protect the vicuña and often organized by non-profit organizations as it participates in the economy of the Andean populations that are the most conducive to then want to better protect The animal that gives them a lasting benefit.

The presence and work of NGOs prevents large textile groups from using populations as employees in this hunt, which could likely lead to a resurgence of poaching. Crude, the fibre of the Vicuña reports between $300-$650 USD per kilograms to the local populations. Peru now legally exports 80 tons of vicuña fibre annually.

In 2006, Coprovic introduced conditions of semi-freedom breeding that would more easily preserve the species and the harvesting of fibre by local populations.

Carmeline or Vicuña Fiber

Carmeline items are almost always left to their natural colour; The chemical processes are poorly supported by the fiber that loses softness and shine. They make a lot of coats, throws and sweaters, although the accessories are also liked. The Scabal House, with the help of scientists, managed to dye the fabric of vicuña in blue and black in 2000, paving the way for new products.

Paco-Vicuñas

The Paco-Vicuñas are actually a hybrid between alpacas and vicuña which would probably have occurred when vicuñas males would have mated with alpacas many years ago. Intentionally, it was only in 1840 that it was done, in order to help improve the fineness in alpacas. Several projects have emerged with the years, but have always still does'nt work because a lack of resources. As the vicuña genes dilute in the alpaca after only 3 generations, the approach of these breeders is now to consider the 50-50 hybrid as a new breed and to mate them only.

The Paco-Vicuñas have the main characteristics of the vicuña at the level of fineness, but have a longer fibre with fewer secondary hairs. They are slightly smaller than alpacas (an average female weighs 135 lb compared to 150 lbs for alpaca). Fibre grows between 1 and 4 inches per year (compared to 2.5 to 7 inches in alpaca). The appearance of the fiber is also different since the fiber grows less in bundle and the crimp is also different. The density is one of the forces of the Paco-Vicuñas (came from the vicuña), but they also inherit a good amount of guard hair (always from the vicuña), accentuating the losses at the mill.

A dozen farms are breeding them in the United States and the total herd would be about 600 animals... The idea of these hybrids being to keep the fineness of the vicuña while increasing the amount of fiber (mostly length) while decreasing the guard hair of the vicuña... a method that brings a lot of skepticism as to its success.

Sources: The social consequences of trafficking | Wikipedia | the fragile luxury | CHACCU | Wool of the Gods/Carmeline | Paco-Vicuña

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