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CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Camelidae
Genus: Lama
L. guanicoe
Binomial name
Lama guanicoe
(Müller, 1776)
Guanaco range

The guanaco (/ɡwɑːˈnɑːk/ ghwuah-NAH-koh;[3] Lama guanicoe) is a camelid native to South America, closely related to the llama. Guanacos are one of two wild South American camelids; the other species is the vicuña, which lives at higher elevations.


The guanaco gets its name from the Quechua word huanaco[4] (modern spelling wanaku[5]). Young guanacos are called chulengos or "guanaquitos".[6]


Skull of a guanaco

Guanacos stand between 1.0 and 1.3 m (3 ft 3 in and 4 ft 3 in) at the shoulder, body length of 2.1 to 2.2 m (6 ft 11 in to 7 ft 3 in),[7][8][9] and weigh 90 to 140 kg (200 to 310 lb).[10] Their color varies very little (unlike the domestic llama), ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. Guanacos have grey faces and small, straight ears. The lifespan of a guanaco can be as long as 28 years.[11]

Guanacos are one of the largest terrestrial mammals native to South America today.[8] Other terrestrial mammalian megafauna weighing as much or more than the guanaco include the tapirs, the marsh deer, the white-tailed deer, the spectacled bear, and the jaguar.[citation needed]

Guanacos have thick skin on their necks, a trait also found in their domestic counterparts, the llama, and their relatives, the wild vicuña and domesticated alpaca. This protects their necks from predator attacks. Bolivians use the neck skin of these animals to make shoes, flattening and pounding the skin to be used for the soles. In Chile, hunting is allowed only in Tierra del Fuego, where the only population not classified as endangered in the country resides. Between 2007 and 2012, 13,200 guanacos were legally hunted in Tierra del Fuego.[12]


Like all camels, Guanacos are herbivores, grazing on grasses, shrubs, herbs, lichens, fungi, cacti, and flowers.[13] The food is swallowed with little chewing and first enters the forestomach to be digested finally after rumination. This process is similar to that of ruminants, to which camels are not zoologically related. The camels' digestive system is likely to have developed independently of ruminants, which is evidenced by the fact that the forestomachs are equipped with glands.[14][15]


Guanacos are often found at high altitudes, up to 4,000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, except in Patagonia, where the southerly latitude means ice covers the vegetation at these altitudes. For guanacos to survive in the low oxygen levels found at these high altitudes, their blood is rich in red blood cells. A teaspoon of guanaco blood contains about 68 million red blood cells; four times that of a human.[16]

Guanaco fiber[edit]

Guanaco fiber is particularly prized for its soft, warm feel and is found in luxury fabric. In South America, the guanaco's soft wool is valued second only to that of vicuña wool. The pelts, particularly from the calves, are sometimes used as a substitute for red fox pelts, because the texture is difficult to differentiate. Like their domestic descendant, the llama, the guanaco is double-coated with coarse guard hairs and a soft undercoat, the hairs of which are about 16–18 μm in diameter and comparable to cashmere.[17]


  • Lama guanicoe guanicoe
  • Lama guanicoe cacsilensis
  • Lama guanicoe voglii
  • Lama guanicoe huanacus

Population and distribution[edit]

Herd of guanacos
Guanaco sharing a habitat with Magellanic penguins, Punta Tombo

Guanacos inhabit the steppes, scrublands and mountainous regions of South America. They are found in the altiplano of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, and in Patagonia, with a small population in Paraguay.[1] In Argentina they are more numerous in Patagonian regions, as well as in places such as Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. In these areas, they have more robust populations, since grazing competition from livestock is limited. Guanaco responded to forage availability, occupying zones with low to intermediate food availability in the breeding season, and those with the highest availability in the non-breeding season.[18]

Estimates, as of 2016, place their numbers around 1.5 to 2 million animals 1,225,000–1,890,000 in Argentina, 270,000–299,000 in Chile, 3,000 in Peru, 150–200 in Bolivia and 20–100 in Paraguay. This is only 3–7% of the guanaco population before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in South America.[19] [20] A small population introduced by John Hamilton exists on Staats Island in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), with a population of around 400 as of 2003.[21] In Torres del Paine National Park, the numbers of Guanacos increased from 175 in 1975 to 3,000 in 1993.[19][22]

Guanacos live in herds composed of females, their young, and a dominant male. Bachelor males form separate herds. While reproductive groups tend to remain small, often containing no more than 10 adults, bachelor herds may contain as many as 50 males. When they feel threatened, guanacos alert the herd to flee with a high-pitched, bleating call. The male usually runs behind the herd to defend them. They can run at 56 km/h (35 mph) per hour, often over steep and rocky terrain.[23] They are also excellent swimmers. A guanaco's typical lifespan is 20 to 25 years.[13]

In Bolivia, the habitat of Guanacos is found to be threatened by woody plant encroachment.[24]

Atacama Desert[edit]

Some guanacos live in the Atacama Desert, where in some areas it has not rained for over 50 years. A mountainous coastline running parallel to the desert enables them to survive in what are called "fog oases" or lomas. Where the cool water touches the hotter land, the air above the desert is cooled, creating a fog and thus, water vapor. Winds carry the fog across the desert, where cacti catch the water droplets and lichens that cling to the cacti soak it in like a sponge. Guanacos then eat the cacti flowers and the lichens.[25]


The guanaco is a diurnal animal. It lives in small herds consisting of one male and several females with their young. When the male detects danger, he warns the group by bleating. The guanaco can run up to 64 km/h (40 mph; 18 m/s). This speed is important for the survival of guanacos because they cannot easily hide in the open grasslands of the Altiplano.[27]

Natural predators of the guanaco include pumas and the culpeo or Andean fox.[8] Fox predation was unknown until 2007 when predators began to be observed in the Karukinka Reserve in Tierra del Fuego. Scientists attribute the reason for the alleged new predation to the unfavourable climatic conditions on the island, which are causing food to become scarce, weakening the animals. The absence of pumas on Tierra del Fuego is also believed to be a factor that allows the fox to occupy its ecological niche. Finally, it is believed that this behaviour is not new, as the fox is nocturnal, which allows it to capture most of its prey, but makes it challenging to observe. Faced with the threat of the red fox, guanacos resort to cooperative strategies to protect their young with a shield formation, a circle around the vulnerable. If they are successful, they chase the fox away, which would be impossible with a puma.[28]

When threatened, the guanaco alerts the rest of the herd with a high-pitched bleating sound, which sounds similar to a short, sharp laugh. Though typically mild-mannered, guanacos often spit when threatened, and can do so up to a distance of six feet.[29][30]

Mating season[edit]

Mating season occurs between November and February,[citation needed] during which males often fight violently to establish dominance and breeding rights.[clarification needed] Eleven-and-a-half months later, a single chulengo is born.[31] Chulengos are able to walk immediately after birth. Male chulengos are chased off from the herd by the dominant male at around one year old.


While not considered an endangered specie in Southern Argentina and Chile dead Guanacos are a common site throughout this region where they are entangled on fences. Studies have found that annual yearling mortality on fences (5.53%) was higher than adult mortality (0.84%) and was more frequent in ovine (93 cm high) than bovine (113 cm) fences. Most guanacos died entangled by their legs in the highest wire when trying to jump over the fence.[32]


A herd of guanacos at the Chester Zoo

Although the species is still considered wild, around 300 guanacos are in U.S. zoos, and around 200 are registered in private herds.[33] Guanacos have long been thought to be the parent species of the domesticated llama, which was confirmed via molecular phylogenetic analysis in 2001, although the analysis also found that domestic llamas had experienced considerable cross-hybridization with alpacas, which are descended from the wild vicuña.[34]

The guanaco was independently domesticated by the Mapuche of Mocha Island in southern Chile, producing the "chilihueque" which was bred for its wool and to pull the plough. This animal disappeared in the 17th century when it was replaced by Old World sheep and draft animals.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Baldi, R.B.; Acebes, P.; Cuéllar, E.; Funes, M.; Hoces, D.; Puig, S.; Franklin, W.L. (2016). "Lama guanicoe". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T11186A18540211. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T11186A18540211.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. ^ "guanaco". The Chambers Dictionary (9th ed.). Chambers. 2003. ISBN 0-550-10105-5.
  4. ^ "Guanaco – LAMA GUANICOE". America Zoo. Lesley Fountain. Archived from the original on 28 April 2009.
  5. ^ "guanaco". Diccionario de la lengua española. Real Academia Española. Retrieved Feb 11, 2021.
  6. ^ "Species Profile: Guanaco". Concervación Patagonia. 2011-12-22.
  7. ^ Stahl, Peter W. (4 April 2008). "Animal Domestication in South America". In Silverman, Helaine; Isbell, William (eds.). Handbook of South American Archaeology. Springer. pp. 121–130. ISBN 9780387752280.
  8. ^ a b c San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes.
  9. ^ Animals>camelids guanaco www.dimensions.guide, Accessed 23 February 2021
  10. ^ "Lama guanicoe". Animal Diversity Web. 18 July 2016.
  11. ^ Hoffman, Eva. "Lama guanicoe (guanaco)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2022-12-20.
  12. ^ Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero, 2012. Plan de Manejo para a población de guanacos en el área agropecuaria de Tierra del Fuego (Chile). Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero, Gobierno de Chile. Punta Arenas, 47pp.+Annexes.
  13. ^ a b "Guanaco | San Francisco Zoo & Gardens". 2021-03-17. Retrieved 2022-01-09.
  14. ^ Bahamonde, Nora; Martin, Susana I.; Sbriller, A. (1986). "Diet of guanaco and red deer in Neuquen Province, Argentina". Journal of Range Management. 39 (1): 22–24. doi:10.2307/3899679. hdl:10150/645455. JSTOR 3899679. S2CID 131871379.
  15. ^ Fowler, Murray E. (2008). "Camelids Are Not Ruminants". Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: 375–385. doi:10.1016/B978-141604047-7.50049-X. ISBN 9781416040477. PMC 7152308.
  16. ^ "Visit Englands Finest Safari Park & Zoo near Liverpool & Manchester". Knowsleysafariexperience.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
  17. ^ Beula Williams (2007-04-17). "Llama Fiber". International Llama Association. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  18. ^ Flores, Celina E.; Bellis, Laura M.; Adrián, Schiavini (2020). "Modelling the abundance and productivity distribution to understand the habitat–species relationship: the guanaco (Lama guanicoe) case study". Wildlife Research. 47 (6): 448. doi:10.1071/WR19114. S2CID 221564519.
  19. ^ a b "The Guanaco - World's Finest Wool".
  20. ^ Autin, Beth. "LibGuides: Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status". ielc.libguides.com. Retrieved 2022-01-09.
  21. ^ Franklin, William L.; Grigione, Melissa M. (10 March 2005). "The enigma of guanacos in the Falkland Islands: the legacy of John Hamilton". Journal of Biogeography. 32 (4): 661–675. Bibcode:2005JBiog..32..661F. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2004.01220.x. S2CID 83468367.
  22. ^ Sarno, R. J.; Franklin, W. L. (1999-12-06). "Population Density and Annual Variation in Birth Mass of Guanacos in Southern Chile". Journal of Mammalogy. 80 (4): 1158–1162. doi:10.2307/1383166. ISSN 1545-1542. JSTOR 1383166.
  23. ^ "Wild Animals". Animal Planet. June 2, 2014.
  24. ^ Cuellar-Soto, Erika; Johnson, Paul J.; Macdonald, David W.; Barrett, Glyn A.; Segundo, Jorge (2020-09-30). "Woody plant encroachment drives habitat loss for a relict population of a large mammalian herbivore in South America". Therya. 11 (3): 484–494. doi:10.12933/therya-20-1071. S2CID 224951614.
  25. ^ Produced by Huw Cordey (2006-04-02). "Deserts". Planet Earth. BBC. BBC One.
  26. ^ "The Guanacos of Atacama". Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Guanaco | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants". animals.sandiegozoo.org. Retrieved 2022-01-05.
  28. ^ Balboa, Perla Cecilia Rodriguez; Rodriguez, Humberto Gonzalez; Silva, Israel Cantu; Parra, Artemio Carrillo; Lozano, Roque G. Ramirez (2016-04-07). "Leaf Morphological Traits of then Shrub Species at the Tamaulipan Thorn Scrub". International Journal of Bio-resource and Stress Management. 7 (2): 344–349. doi:10.23910/ijbsm/2016.7.2.1494b. ISSN 0976-3988.
  29. ^ "5 Fascinating Facts About Guanacos » Cascada Expediciones". www.cascada.travel. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
  30. ^ "National Geographic". Archived from the original on 2010-04-14. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  31. ^ "Guanaco: Lama guanicoe". World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  32. ^ Rey, Andrés; Novaro, Andrés J; Guichón, María L (October 2012). "Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) mortality by entanglement in wire fences". Journal for Nature Conservation. 20 (5): 280–283. Bibcode:2012JNatC..20..280R. doi:10.1016/j.jnc.2012.05.004. hdl:11336/76527. Retrieved 24 May 2024.
  33. ^ "ROYAL FIBERS - Guanacos Facts". Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  34. ^ Wheeler, Dr Jane; Kadwell, Miranda; Fernandez, Matilde; Stanley, Helen F.; Baldi, Ricardo; Rosadio, Raul; Bruford, Michael W. (December 2001). "Genetic analysis reveals the wild ancestors of the llama and the alpaca". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 268 (1485): 2575–2584. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1774. PMC 1088918. PMID 11749713. 0962-8452 (Paper), 1471-2954 (Online).
  35. ^ Westbury, M., Prost, S., Seelenfreund, A., Ramírez, J. M., Matisoo-Smith, E. A., & Knapp, M. (2016). First complete mitochondrial genome data from ancient South American camelids-the mystery of the chilihueques from Isla Mocha (Chile). Scientific reports, 6(1), 1-7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]