The Chacu as Vicuna Management Tool


The chacu method turns villagers into a human fence to herd the animals. In Peru, most of the fleece profits are retained by indigenous shearing cooperatives rather than the mills that process the fleece, though the number of animals and amount of fleece is small in many villages. Garments made from fleece derived by the government-sanctioned chacus are so indicated on the label. Chacus have reduced the profit from illegal hunting, one of the program’s primary environmental goals, and provided communities an event that attracts visitors on Peru tours.

Modern ways have infiltrated the Inca chacus. In some places, horses and sometimes motorized vehicles help herd the animals. Over the years, communities have gained the right to fence their vicuna populations to profit from those that occupy their fields and as a way to separate the vicunas of one village from another, blurring the distinction between wild and domestic animals.

Some ask if chacus are good for the vicuna species and the vicuna garment industry long-term. As a way to manage vicunas, chacus are an inexact science. The decision about whether to shear or not shear is based on the length of the animal’s hair. How often are individual vicunas being sheared? What time of year is best for the animal to undergo this unnatural process? How many times can a vicuna be sheared before the quality of its fleece is altered? What does the stress and chaos of the chacu do to the herd structure of vicunas? Research on this and related topics is underway in locations where chacus take place.

Today’s chacus were re-invented from a tradition that died out long ago. Some contend that chacus are simply a modern marketing technique to increase visitor travel to Peru. Perhaps however, the same can be said of tourist events anywhere that seek to offer outsiders a glimpse of what is or used to be unique to a culture. Poaching is down. Vicuna populations are increasing and remain a source of income to communities with few others. For the time being, these realities are the bottom line.