|Use and Trade:
The call for the management and wise use of Guanaco products (fine undercoat/fiber and meat) put forth over the past several decades as an alternative approach to traditional conservation and strict protection (Franklin and Fritz 1991, Franklin et al. 1997) is now in the pioneering stages trying to establish itself as a wildlife production system (Hudson 1989). Research and application of meat harvest programs have been conducted on Tierra del Fuego, Chile, after monitoring population (Skewes et al. 1999, Skewes et al. 2000, Soto 2010). Nearly 23,000 animals have been harvested for meat between 2003 and 2015 in Chilean Tierra del Fuego with products primarily exported or used in the local market (N. Soto, pers. com. 2016). Fiber utilization was achieved initially from Guanaco farm individuals captured in the wild as newborns and raised in captivity during the 1980s and 1990s (Bas and González et al. 2000), but this approach has largely been discontinued because of high husbandry costs and world instability in the specialty-fiber market. Another approach, as mentioned above, holds more long-term promise from capturing, shearing and releasing of individuals in wild populations in programs being developed in Argentina. Finally, non-consumptive use, such as tourism, has also helped promote the aesthetic value of the species, especially in wild protected areas (Franklin et al. 1997).
A major management program funded by the government is currently being developed in the Patagonia of Argentina for fine-fiber utilization of wild-live captured animals on protected areas. This type of management was at its height during the last decade between 2004-2008 when some 11,000 Guanacos were shorn (Baldi et al. 2010, Lichtenstein 2013). Since then the number of animals has decreased due to international price variations for crude fiber. As a result, there has been a strong incentive to generate Guanaco fiber products as the local level, including yarn and thread (Lichtenstein pers. comm.).
Ecosystem Services and Values
The importance of the Guanaco is based upon a multiple set of values (González 2010b). The most basic is its ecocentric or intrinsic value, that is, as a species its right to live, to exist, independent of the importance of the species to humans. This is an ethical base tangentially related to different groups and non-government organizations within the protective laws of each country.
There are a myriad of anthropocentric values that refer to the importance of a species to humans. The species provides multiple benefits to society, or ecosystem services (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) that are imparted to different segments of human society (Ojasti 2000). Guanacos provide regulating, supporting, provisioning and cultural services at different time and space scales. The benefits of the Guanaco to humans can be assessed by a number of values:
- Existence Value that can be achieved through investment or payment to insure the existence of Guanaco populations without assumptions for its later use, is still in the beginning stages for this species. Nevertheless, the work of private organizations like Wildlife Foundation, Patagonia Conservation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society have indirectly assured the Guanaco’s future by acquiring large-land holdings for the conservation of ecosystems that include the species.
- Evolutionary Value, through the Guanaco’s heritage of nearly 40 million years of evolution from its ancestors in North American (Franklin 1982, in press) and its anatomical and physiological adaptations (González et al. 2006), its adaptiveness has enabled the species to become the dominate-wild mammal in Patagonia and parts of the Andean mountains of South America (Franklin 2011). This value is important when management is planned and its use is assessed, especially when contrasted with introduced-exotic animals.
- Ecological Value, the Guanaco has a major role and broad component in the trophic and ecological network of the South American Andean, Patagonia, and aridland ecosystems. It has been observed that in the absence of this large herbivore, the Puma will consume other prey that are of importance to humans, namely domestic sheep (Novaro et al. 2000, Laguna et al. 2015). The Guanaco modifies plant growth in such a way that reduces dry matter prone to fire (Fuentes and Muñoz 1995) and disseminates seeds through the use of dung piles that promotes the recycling of nutrients and colonization of degraded soils (Cortés et al. 2003, Henríquez 2004, Cavieres and Fajardo 2005). In addition, the padded feet of Guanacos do far less damage to soft soils compared to cloven hoofed livestock (König et al. 2003, König et al. 2015). They are also an important prey of predators and their remains are significant to scavenging animals, all of which contribute to ecosystem health and cycles.
- Productive Value, applies to a number managed Guanaco populations for the important production of fibre (hair) and meat (see section on Use and Trade). Guanaco fibre is extremely fine (14-16 microns) and potentially economically valuable, as currently being obtained from live capture and release programs in the Patagonia of Argentina. Also, the value of its meat is being harvested from populations in Tierra del Fuego, Chile.
- Ethnic Value of the Guanaco is high as an invaluable species that has permitted the existence of humans in a variety of remote and dry environments of South America (Franklin 1982). All indigenous cultures associated with the deserts, Andean mountains, and the Patagonian and Fuegian zones utilized the Guanaco, and in some cases depended upon the species for food, clothing, shelter, and artistic and spiritual inspiration (Miller 1982). Its ethnic value was paramount, thanks to the process of domestication in the Central Andes, in the creation of the domestic Llama (Wheeler 1995). The Guanaco has also been seen to have local aesthetic value (Barkmann et al. 2005, Cerda et al. 2014).
- Conservation Value of the Guanaco has been successfully used as an indicator, sentry, flag, and charismatic species (Noss 1990) in several parts of its distribution (Chehebar et al. 2013). It has also been used to justify the creation of wild areas and for environmental variations as a “sensitive species” for monitoring changes in land use (González et al. 2008).
- Restoration Value is the examination of costs for preventing the Guanaco’s disappearance and/or the costs of re-establishing extirpated populations, as was the case in Argentina (Barri and Cufré 2014).
- Option Value is the costs of determining the attitudes of people or society to pay for Guanaco conservation as a potential resource for future use, of which, has not yet been assessed.
- Recreational-Tourism Value, whereas the Guanaco is an animal of large-showy size in open ecosystems, with its gregarious habits, tolerance and habituation to people when not under persecution makes the species an important attraction for tourists who visit wild-protected national parks and refuges (Franklin et al. 1997, Cerda and De la Maza 2015).
- Historic Value, for having been recognized in stories of early arriving Europeans, historians, and naturalists, such as Charles Darwin who was surprised by the large numbers of Guanacos, its habits, and widespread occurrence across different areas of South America, the species is historically important.
- Artistic and Literary Value, because the Guanaco has been mentioned by historical and contemporary writers, for example Gabriel Garcia Marquez who at the time of receiving the Nobel prize of Literature in 1982, used the description done by A. Pigaffeta of the Guanaco in 1521 as an example of Magical Realism. Also, Pablo Neruda in his work “Canto General” (General Song in English) of 1950, dedicated words to the Guanaco in several of his poems. In addition, the Guanaco has been featured in major popular magazine articles and a number of television specials and documentaries by Nova, Nature, Discovery and National Geographic seen by multi-millions of people (see for details http://www.camelidosgecs.com.ar/pdf/listado_guanaco_2014.pdf).