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article imagePhoto Essay: Llamas — Legacy of the Incas in the Andean highlands Special

By Igor I. Solar     Aug 22, 2013 in Environment
Llamas are Andean mammals related to camels and dromedaries. Llamas were first domesticated about 5,000 years ago by the Incas of the Peruvian highlands and they are still bred by the people of the Andes for their meat, wool and as beasts of burden.
It is assumed that the ancestors of the current South American camelids, similar to today’s guanacos, migrated from North America about three million years ago. The Andean native people already knew the fundamentals of genetics and carried out selective breeding of wild guanacos to create two new domesticated varieties. One line was selected for its size and strength, for use of their meat and as beasts of burden, leading to the Llamas (Lama glama), while a second line was selected by the fineness of its fibers that could be woven into textiles, which led to Alpacas (Vicugna pacos). Other varieties of camelids, such as the Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), remained as wild animals.
Nowadays, domesticated llamas and alpacas are relatively abundant in the Puna or Altiplano of the Andes and are used by Andean natives of southern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina and Chile. Most South American camelids live in Andean regions at altitudes from 3,000 to 5,000 metres above sea level; however, some strong populations of guanacos also inhabit the pampas of the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia.
A herd of llamas forages on pastures in the high Andes  near the border of Chile and Bolivia. In the...
A herd of llamas forages on pastures in the high Andes, near the border of Chile and Bolivia. In the background is the 5,920-meter-high Licancabur Volcano, which the Incas called "The Mountain of the People".
Llamas are able to function normally at a low level of hydration. They are capable of going for exte...
Llamas are able to function normally at a low level of hydration. They are capable of going for extended periods (several days) without water. This is an adaptation to the arid climate where they live.
Llamas are well adapted to high altitude environments. Niight time temperatures in the highlands may...
Llamas are well adapted to high altitude environments. Niight time temperatures in the highlands may fall as low as 30°C in the winter.
The uses of llamas are varied. Besides being used for meat and as beasts of burden, their wool is used to weave garments, their internal organs to make ropes and drums, and even their droppings are used as fuel. In recent times llamas have also been used as guard animals in large free-range sheep operations and as therapy pets for aging and sick people.
Before the Spanish presence in South America, llamas were, along with a special variety of dogs, guinea pigs and some ducks, the only domestic animals of the Inca Empire. During the Spanish conquest, llamas were used as substitute of animals of European origin such as horses, goats and sheep. It is estimated that before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors there were between 30 and 50 million llamas in the Andean regions. During and after the Spanish conquest the llama population was greatly reduced, as it was the indigenous human population. It is estimated that the current population of llamas and guanacos in South America is between 1 and 3.5 million heads.
Llamas take small amounts of forage from a wide variety of high altitude plants. They naturally avoi...
Llamas take small amounts of forage from a wide variety of high altitude plants. They naturally avoid toxic portions or growth stages of some grasses as well as highly toxic plant species.
A llama and her baby. Baby llamas are called “crias”. Llamas produce small volumes of milk at a ...
A llama and her baby. Baby llamas are called “crias”. Llamas produce small volumes of milk at a time, thus crias must suckle frequently to obtain enough nourishment.
Llamas are domesticated animals  however the owners let their llamas loose in the mountains to feed ...
Llamas are domesticated animals, however the owners let their llamas loose in the mountains to feed on wild grasses. They identify their animals by the colourful decorations hanging from the ears.
A group of llamas foraging on the shores of a salt lagoon at about 4 500 meters above sea level. Lar...
A group of llamas foraging on the shores of a salt lagoon at about 4,500 meters above sea level. Large numbers of flamingos can also be seen feeding in the lagoon.
More about Llamas, Atacama desert, South American camelids, San Pedro de atacama, Licancabur volcano
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