Returning the Vicunas to Ecuador


Ecuador’s vicuna protection program is a story of international cooperation among nations that signed the Convention for Vicuna Conservation. After the preservation efforts of Peru and Chile had succeeded in replenishing their countries’ vicuna populations, the two countries came to their neighbor’s aid, donating a starting stock of 1,600 vicunas to the government of Ecuador in 1988. With far fewer vicunas to spare, Bolivia donated animals to Ecuador in 1993, enabling the country to broaden its genetic stock.

To protect its new vicunas, the Ecuador government placed the animals in the Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve. Located 112 miles southwest of Quito between the cities of Ambato and Riobamba, the 145,000-acre reserve spans the borders of three provinces and is a popular Ecuador hiking destination. This high-altitude paramo region is only for the hardiest of vegetation and wildlife species, protecting other endangered species such as the endangered Andean condor and Andean fox. It contains two extinct volcanoes, 20,600-ft Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak, as well as 16,470-ft Mt. Carihuairazo. Visitors on Ecuador tours come here for the hiking and mountain biking. Several indigenous communities situated in the reserve make their living from farming, some raising the domesticated species of South American camelids, alpacas and llamas.

Here the vicuna population has been monitored and their habits tracked to provide enough data to develop a conservation management plan for the species. These efforts receive international support from such entities as the International Development Research Council of Canada and the Grupo Especialista en Camelidos Sudamericanos. Since returning the vicuna to Ecuador, the population of the species here has almost doubled.

For the time being, visitors who travel to Ecuador will see the little vicuna nowhere but in the Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve. With the success of the government’s preservation program perhaps one day Ecuador travel guidebooks will start listing the vicuna as one of the species visitors on Ecuador tours will see in abundance as they hike in the Andes within its borders.