Not quite as famous as their cousins the camel and the llama, the guanaco (lama guanicoe) is a wild animal found only in South America. Though their population has reduced significantly in recent decades, guanacos still number about half a million on the continent.
They roam and graze in herds. Mixed herds consist of females and their babies, called chulengos, and one dominant male leader. Bachelor herds are groups of up to 50 males. A male guanaco must leave the mother’s herd once he is about a year old, and join a large bachelor herd.
During my travels in Patagonia, through the Torres del Paine in Chile and the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina, I encountered many of these athletic long-necked creatures. They are survivors, able to live in the Atacama Desert just as well as they manage in the rainy Torres del Paine national park. Like their camel kin, the guanaco can survive long periods in arid terrain without water.
Slender and fawn coloured, they have very long necks topped by a large head. They aren’t as gentle as they look, and as I witnessed, will not hesitate to spit, kick, bite, or chase. They are about 3.5 to 4 feet in height and can weigh up to 135 kilos. Guanaco wool, like the wool from its other cousin the vicuña, is highly prized, though this industry remains small, given how hard it is to capture and shear these animals.