Vicuñas are a one of the 6 camelids native to Peru, they are known as the wild ancestor of the domesticated alpaca. The Incas valued the soft fine fiber of the Vicuña so much that they made it against the law for anyone but royalty to wear garments made from the wool. Now they are the national animal of Peru and are represented on the coat of arms.
Both in the time of the Incas and nowadays the vicuña are protected by law, but sadly in the period after the decline of the Incas they were heavily hunted and in 1947 only about 6,000 animals remained. Now the population has recovered, but conservation still continues to be important as they are still very susceptible to threats from poaching and habitat loss.
Now, with the prediction that this year’s El Niño will be abnormally strong, they are in danger yet again. It is expected that the extreme weather will wipe out the grasslands that Arequipa’s National Reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca protect as the habitat and nutrition of 12,129 vicunas. Without the grasslands the vicuñas could have to be relocated to Cusco and Puno, but this option would carry with it other risks from poachers who hunt the vicuña for their extremely valuable fiber, which is valued at as much as $2,000 per kilo on the international market.