Protecting the Guanacos of Peru
Domesticated llama and alpaca species are raised commercially
By the 20th century, shrinking habitat and over-hunting had reduced South America’s guanaco population almost to extinction. As it did to protect its vicunas, the Peruvian government began taking steps in the 1970s to resurrect its guanaco population from the few thousand that remained within its borders, by curtailing hunting and prohibiting international trade in pelts. The government established the first of three protected areas to protect the species in 1981.
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The 158,000-acre Calipuy National Reserve is located in La Libertad Department in the northern highlands of Peru, northwest of Huascaran National Park between the cities of Chimbote and Trujillo. The reserve is adjacent to the 11,120-acre Calipuy National Sanctuary. The areas are used primarily for environmental research rather than attracting many visitors on Peru tours. Any travelers who do visit the areas of Peru where guanacos are found will be interested to know that April to June is guanaco birthing season in the more northerly areas of their range.
The some 600 animals that inhabit the Calipuy National Reserve are the largest population of guanacos that remain in Peru. Calipuy is located in the northerly area of the range where the species is found today. This small reserve provides critical habitat for the species where despite protection, the population continues to decline.
Visitors on Peru tours may see guanacos elsewhere. Travelers who choose the less traveled Salcantay route to hike to Machu Picchu may encounter guanacos as will those who travel to Peru for some Colca Canyon hiking in the south. Guanacos are also found in and around the Pampa Galeras-Barbara D’Achille National Reserve, a reserve established to protect vicunas in the southern highlands of Peru near Nazca. Coastal populations of guanacos on the northern and southern coast have not re-established despite the government’s efforts.
Next door in Bolivia, so few guanacos remain that the battle seems all but lost. Though no national reserves have been established to protect the species, the government is working with its indigenous communities to save the remaining guanacos and increase the country’s tiny population. Until 2001, hunting of guanacos was legal in Bolivia. Under today’s existing law, indigenous tribes may hunt guanacos in the wild to shear but not kill.
In addition to government initiatives, private entities are also playing a role in the guanaco recovery efforts in Peru. For instance, with international input, an indigenous eco-tourism project was initiated in the 1990s in northwestern Peru, establishing the 85,000-acre Chaparri Reserve near Santa Catalina de Chongoyape, east of Chiclayo, where a small population of guanacos has been introduced.
Several of Southern Explorations’ Peru tours take visitors to areas of the country where they may encounter the endangered guanaco. These include the twelve-day Salcantay and Inca Trail Hike trip as well as Peru tours and one tour extension that visit Colca Canyon, ranging from four to eighteen days.