Vicugna vicugna


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Vicugna vicugna
Species Authority: (Molina, 1782)
Common Name/s:
English Vicuna, Vicuña, Vicugna
French Vigogne
Taxonomic Notes: Two subspecies have been described: Vicugna vicugna vicugna and V. vicugna mensalis.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Lichtenstein, G., Baldi, R., Villalba, L., Hoces, D., Baigún, R. & Laker, J.
Reviewer/s: Baldi, R.& Wheeler, J. (South American Camelid Red List Authority)
This species is considered to be Least Concern due to an estimated large populations, wide range and occurrence in a number of protected areas. According to the former (1996) classification, Vicuñas were Low Risk/conservation dependent. Under the current criteria, this classification does not hold any more and they should be classified as Least Concern due to the overall population size. It is important to note that conservation programmes and tight control at local, national and international levels are key for the conservation of the species. Given the degree of poaching, the development of captive management schemes, economic interests for hybridizing Vicuñas and Alpacas, uncertainties about the impact of climate change on the already poor vicuna habitat, and the deterioration of grasslands due to overgrazing by domestic livestock, unless conservation actions are in place, the species might decline its numbers again.
1994 Vulnerable (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Vulnerable (IUCN 1990)
1988 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
1982 Vulnerable (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Vicuñas occur in an area of approximately 250,000 km² in the Puna and Altoandina biogeographic provinces of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Ecuador has a population of 2,683 individuals resulting from a donation from Peru, Chile and Bolivia. The Vicuña is found in a range that extends from 9°30'S in the Ancash Department of Peru to 29°30'S in Region III of Chile.

In the case of Argentina, Vicuñas are found in the provinces of Jujuy, Catamarca, Salta, La Rioja and San Juan (with relictual populations in the province of Tucumán). In Peru they are found in the departments of Ancash, Huanuco, Cerro de Pasco, Junin, Lima, Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Ica, Apurimac Arequipa, Cusco, Puno, Moquegua and Tacna, in Ecuador they occur at the Reserva de Produccion de Fauna Chimborazo.

In Bolivia, Vicuña populations occur in 5 out of 9 Bolivian departments: La Paz, Cochabamba, Oruro, Potosí and Tarija.

Two subspecies are present in Chile and Bolivia, the northern Vicugna vicugna mensalis, and the southern Vicugna vicugna vicugna. Argentina holds only Vicugna vicugna vicugna, and Peru Vicugna vicugna mensalis.
Argentina; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Chile; Peru
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: According to the National Census (2008), Vicunas in Argentina inhabit an area of 123,001 km². The provinces with the highest vicuna populations are Jujuy and Catamarca, and La Rioja the province with the lowest population. Thirty four percent of the areas of distribution of Vicuñas occur in 10 protected areas that have different degrees of implementation. The total population size of Vicuñas was estimated as 127,072 using the lowest estimate with the line transect method, in those strata where sampling was considered representative (53,578 km²). In comparison with previous data, Vicuña population was stable in La Rioja and San Juan, and increased in Salta, Catamarca and Jujuy. There was evidence of poaching in the five of these provinces (Dirección de Fauna Silvestre, Secretaria de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de la Nacion, 2008).

In Bolivia, the largest concentration is found in the northern section, specifically in the 'Area Natural de Manejo Integrado Nacional Apolobamba' (formerly Ulla Ulla National Wildlife Reserve) (10,350 animals, according to the 2006 census). In the most southern section of its distribution, Vicuña populations are isolated and dispersed in small groups. According to the Bolivian governmental report there are 17,845 Vicuñas under protected areas (2006 report to the Vicuña Convention, Quito). Morphological observations give reason to believe that both Vicuña subspecies are present in the country, corresponding to the northern and southern subspecies referred to by Hofmann et al. (1983). Species density in the northern populations in semi-humid high-Andes habitats, is relatively high (0.065 vic/ha); while it is average to low in the semi-humid Puna (0.006 vic/ha) (DNCB 1996).

Ninety-five percent of the Vicuñas in Chile are concentrated in the I Region (Tarapacá) in the Comunas of General Lagos and Parinacota. There are three protected areas: Parque Nacional Lauca, Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas, and Monumento Nacional Salar de Surire.

Peru has the largest Vicuña population in the entire Andean region, with over half of the total population of the species. Although its conservation has faced difficulties, surveys carried out by the Consejo Nacional de Camélidos Sudamericanos (CONACS) over 70,000 km² in the years 1994, 1997 and 2000 indicate that the population has been growing to almost 120,000 individuals. Pampa Galeras National Reserve has the largest concentration in Peru, with a population size estimated in 1965 to be between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals. Currently the population is Pampa Galeras surpasses 65,000 animals.

Total Population Size
Population Size: 347,273 individuals (see below for census numbers). However, it is difficult to assess the confidence of the estimate as data from different countries were obtained using different methodology. As a general rule, it is recommended to use the distance sampling method, either for ground or aerial surveys, as it is based on more realistic assumptions than the fixed-width strip transect methods which tend to underestimate population numbers (Buckland et al. 2001). However, where numbers are too low, as in relict populations, total counts or less systematics methods can be appropriate. Also, extrapolation of local densities to larger areas must be careful and made according to sampling effort. Accurate estimates of local densities are not sufficient at the time to estimate abundance for larger areas unless the sampling effort is properly disseminated throughout the region.

Country: Vicuña population
Argentina: 127,072 or 72,678
Bolivia: 62,869
Chile: 16,942
Ecuador: 2,683
Peru: 188,327
TOTAL: 347,273
Population Trend: Increasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Vicuña distribution is restricted to the Puna and Altoandina biogeographical provinces at altitudes of 3,200 to 4,800 m asl. Its habitat consists mainly of six different vegetation types: halophytic, tundra marsh (called vegas in Chile and Argentina, bofedales in Bolivia and puquios in Peru, a marshy area associated with ground water, lagoons or streams), grassy steppes, prairies, shrub steppes, and rolling shrub steppes (tolares) supporting cacti (Pujalte and Reca, 1985).

Preference for marshy areas was also reported by Glade (1987), Lucherini (1996) and Villalba (2000). While Vicuña territories include wetlands, they are often located near hillsides. It has been reported that Vicuña use steep slopes as a means of escaping from some predators, and that they use dry areas on "moderate slopes, well downhill from ridge tops" as places to spend the night. Additionally the bases of slopes are often good places for grazing because the soil there is deeper and moister than soils up on the slope (Koford 1957).

Vicuñas spend the night and early morning on the slopes. Later in the morning, they descend to the vegas/puquios where they graze extensively, before returningto the slopes late in the afternoon (Glade 1987; Renaudeau d'Arc et al. 2000). Vicuñas are usually found within two kilometers of water (Koford 1957).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Vicuña poaching is problematic in all four countries. The difficulty of controlling is related to the vast extent of the Puna, its topography and the existence of long international borders. Limited human, economic and technical resources make control ineffective. Several laws and decrees within the countries establish protected areas for the species; prohibit hunting, commercialization and transportation or manufacturing of parts or products from hunted animals. But judges and law-enforcement officials are not always aware of the legislation concerning protection of biodiversity, resulting in differing interpretations and applications of the law, and unduly light punishments. Many of the protected areas are "paper parks".

Most of the countries lack National Management plans. This is a threat to effective Vicuña conservation; without standardized and verifiable criteria for conservation and management of the Vicuña, multiple management plans for implementation may be approved without any reference to minimum sustainability criteria for conservation. There are no specific laws concerning animal welfare relevant to the management of Vicuña. This too may pose a threat to long-term sustainability.

Measures to reduce or discourage poaching are clearly essential. One is the application of tight controls not only in the producer countries but also in the importing countries. A related measure is transparency in the provision of information concerning the legal market for Vicuña fibre, e.g. prices at auction, buyers, and producers (Mc Neill, Lichtenstein and Renaudeau d'Arc in press). Corruption and lack of human and economic resources make it very difficult to control exports, and vicuña fibre and products are smuggled in large quantities to Europe or Asia. It is also possible that illegal fibre is smuggled between Andean countries (e.g. from Argentina to Bolivia) as a first step to being illegally exported to international markets. The fibres of different species of camelids are relatively similar (to the non-specialist), so that personnel with special training and even laboratory equipment is required to identify fibre to species level.

Management of Vicuñas in captivity proved to be quite negative towards Vicuña conservation in the wild (Lichtenstein et al. 2002, Lichtenstein 2006). Use and conservation-oriented management of wild populations is desirable if based on sound scientific information.

Local people in the altiplano consider Vicuñas to be competitors of domestic livestock, do not tolerance their presence and may be a highly significant factor influencing vicuña distribution (Cueto et al. 1985, Lichtenstein and Renaudeau d'Arc 2004). In addition, habitat-loss caused by over-grazing by domestic livestock and human activities such as mining, and subsequent pollution of rivers and sources of water are further threats to the species (Laker et al. 2006). The incidence of mange/scabies in vicuñas should be evaluated, particularly in those regions where livestock (native and exotic) has important presence.

Climate change will probably have a detrimental impact in the fragile ecosystem where Vicuñas occur since they are in the limits of habitable environments. Assessment of the effects of climate change on Vicuñas is a priority.

A new potential threat, both in the Andes and worldwide, is the breeding of pacovicuña (an Alpaca/Vicuña hybrid) for commercial purposes (Lichtenstein, Hoces and Wheeler presentations to the Vicuña Convention:

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Four decades ago, the Vicuña was one of the most threatened species in South America. Due to the over-hunting only a few thousand individuals existed. The implementation of the Vicuña Convention was fundamental in the recovery of the species. In 1987, during the Sixth CITES Conference of the Parties, Peru obtained for the first time, along with other countries, the authorization to internationally trade fabrics made from vicuña wool from live sheared animals,

This species is listed on CITES Appendix I, except for the populations listed on Appendix II. Currently various Vicuña populations are included in the Appendix II of CITES. These are found in Argentina (the populations of the Provinces of Jujuy and Catamarca and the semi-captive populations of the Provinces of Jujuy, Salta, Catamarca, La Rioja and San Juan), the whole population in Bolivia, in Chile (the population of the Primera Región), and the whole population in Peru. Appendix II allows, under strict regulations between exporting and importing countries, the trade in wool and derived products. All other populations are included in Appendix I.

The Vicuña Convention was implemented in each country in accordance with its own National Legislation. The ownership status of the Vicuña varies somewhat; as a wild species, it is the property of the State in Peru and Bolivia, and res nullius (without owner) in Chile and Argentina. Although all the conservation aspects of the Vicuña Convention are embodied in National Laws and Decrees in all four countries, this is not always the case as regards granting benefits to local people.

In Argentina, there are six Vicuña conservation areas in the northwest, most are managed by the provincial government. The Ley Nacional de Fauna 22,421 provides a legal framework at the federal level, there are also provincial laws both for wildlife in general and specific for vicuna.

Since 1980, Vicuñas have been reported in 38 areas along the Bolivian high plateau. These areas have been nominated Vicuña Protection Areas (VPA) and have been grouped into nine Conservation and Management Units; within these, there are four protected areas but with different levels of implementation; the vicuña population in Bolivia remains insecure due to the lack of continuity of conservation actions undertaken a few years ago.

The Vicuña population in Chile has shown some recovery, which greatly reduces the risk of extinction that was very high until a few years ago. There are two geographical forms, but their precise identification still requires deeper scientific analysis. At present, the Chilean Forest Service (Corporación Nacional Forestal, CONAF) carries out annual census work in approximately 1.5 million hectares, maintains personnel in six guard stations, supports several research projects, and runs a long-term environmental education program through various communication media. There are four conservation areas inhabited by Vicuña in Chile. Two more have been proposed and others are currently being studied. In addition, a management zone has been established in private lands in which periodic censuses have been carried out during the last few years.

In Peru the Vicuña is protected, at national level, in all the operational areas of the Ministry of Agriculture's Special Project for Rational Utilization of the Vicuña. This Special Project contains six subprojects: Huaraz, Huancayo, Pampa Galeras, Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno which includes Huascaran National Park, Pampa Galeras National Reserve, and Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve. These three conservation areas are incorporated in the National System of Natural Protected Areas of Peru (SINANPE). Local communities participate on the entire process of management and conservation of the populations and use of the sheared wool. The responsible authority is the CONACS (National Council on South American Camelids) and the local communities.
Citation: Lichtenstein, G., Baldi, R., Villalba, L., Hoces, D., Baigún, R. & Laker, J. 2008. Vicugna vicugna. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <>. Downloaded on 18 April 2014.
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