CAMELS, GUANACOS, LLAMAS, ALPACAS, AND VICU AS FACTS
The average height of camels is 6 to 7.5 feet (1.8 to 2.3 meters), and vicuñas, guanacos, llamas, and alpacas are 3 to 4.3 feet (.90 to 1.3 meters) tall. Camels weigh between 1,000 and 1,800 pounds (454 to 816 kilograms); vicuñas, guanacos, llamas, and alpacas weigh between 88.8 and 265.5 pounds (40 to 120 kilograms).
Camelidae have long, thin necks, small heads, and slender snouts. Their tough mouths allow them to eat thick grasses and thorny plants without pain. Camels have kneepads which protect them as they fold their legs beneath their bodies to rest.
Each foot has two flat toes. Their thick coats protect them from cold temperatures, and only the camel sheds its hair as temperatures rise. Camels also have special muscles that allow them to close their nostrils and lips for long periods of time so that they do not breathe in large amounts of sand or snow.
Camels also have humps that store fat as a source of energy when food reserves are low. The better they eat, the fatter the hump or humps grow.
Camelidae are found from the Arabian Peninsula to Mongolia, and in western and southern South America. Alpaca and llamas are now found throughout North America since they have become popular ranch animals.
CAMELS, GUANACOS, LLAMAS, ALPACAS, AND VICU AS HABITAT
Wild camelids live in the desert and semi-arid environments that have a long dry season and short rainy season. Guanacos live in warm and cold grasslands up to 13,120 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, while vicuñas live in grasslands of the Andes Mountains above 11,482 feet (3,500 meters).
CAMELS, GUANACOS, LLAMAS, ALPACAS, AND VICU AS DIET
Camelids need very little water. They graze on various grasses and salty plants, which help them retain what little water they do drink. Dromedaries and guanacos drink salty water no other animals could tolerate.
Both kinds of camel eat thorny desert shrubs as well as any other vegetation found in desert or semi-arid regions. Like some other mammals, they do not chew their food completely before swallowing it. After eating, they regurgitate, bring up from the stomach, the food, re-chew it, swallow again, and digest it.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Camelids are active during the day. All species will spit or kick when threatened.
Bactrian camels usually live in herds of up to thirty individuals, concentrating in the mountain areas where there are springs and snow. Dromedaries form three types of herds during the mating season. One type is that comprised of bachelor, or single, males. The next is made up of female-offspring couples, and those made up of up to thirty adult females along with their offspring, led by one adult male. Vicuñas maintain family groups of one territorial male and subadults as well as females and offspring less than a year old. The guanaco population lives in three social groups as well including families with one adult male and one or several females with their most recent offspring, male groups whose numbers may reach fifty, and solitary males. Because they are now raised domestically, llamas and alpacas have lost their social structure.
Camelids have numerous mates and do not bond with one another. After twelve to thirteen months of pregnancy, female camels give birth to one newborn, which can walk within a few hours of birth. Young remain with their mothers until the age of two years but they not considered adults until the age of five years. Female llamas and vicuñas also give birth to one offspring after an eleven-month pregnancy. The babies stay with the mother until one year of age.
Pumas and foxes are the primary predators of vicuñas and llamas, while alpacas fall prey to pumas and leopards. Camels have no known predators.
CAMELIDS AND PEOPLE
Camelids have been used for transportation as well as a food and clothing source for about seven thousand years. They are especially valuable as transportation in the North African and Asian deserts because they can travel up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) without water. They are also able to carry heavy loads and still keep a steady pace.
Camels are a sign of wealth to some desert populations. These species provide humans with milk, meat, and wool used to make clothing, blankets, and tents. The fat can be removed from their humps and melted for use in cooking.
Llamas and alpacas were domesticated thousands of years ago. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984, and in 2004 there were more than fifty thousand registered alpacas in the United States. Llamas are believed to be domesticated, tamed, by about 4,000 B.C.E.
Vicuñas were used in religious rituals in the Inca empire. Guanacos provided food, hides, and fibers for South American cultures, but they have never been domesticated.
Camels, alpacas, and llamas are not listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) because they are domestic animals. However, wild Bactrian camels are listed as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, due to heavy hunting and competition with domestic livestock for water and land. Vicuñas and guanacos are listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Vicuñas had been hunted almost to the point of extinction for their fur and meat.