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Gander at the guanaco, master of survival


Did you hear? This year we have mammals on our mind. From marsupials to bats to carnivores to cetaceans, Nature and Culture International is celebrating warm-blooded creatures across Latin America.

This month’s mammal is a wild camelid, native to mountainous regions of South America. The animal can live in extreme conditions, where few other species can thrive.

Join us in celebrating the guanaco, master of survival.

Guanacos are one of four camelid species that live in South America. While you’ve probably heard of the llama, the guanaco is its wild ancestor, domesticated thousands of years ago to be used for its wool and as a pack animal.

The species lives in dry regions such as open grassland and arid shrub land, subject to sub-zero temperatures, snowfall and high winds. A pale brown color with a snowy white underside, guanacos have adapted to all sorts of extreme conditions. Their necks have thicker skin for protection against predators, padded toes help the guanaco to navigate paths and slopes, and thick, long eyelashes protect their eyes from dust and high winds.

Like camels, guanacos can retain and store moisture from plants, enabling them to survive harsh and dry climates. They are ruminants, which means that their digestive system is split into three chambers to allow them to extract all vital nutrients from the plant matter that they eat.

Guanacos live in large herds, typically consisting of at least ten females and their young, all accompanied by a dominant male. Young and bachelor males live in separate herds that can reach up to 50 individuals. These herds are a form of defense against their main predator, the puma.

Humans have become the deadlier predator, as numbers of guanaco have declined from an estimated 50 million when the Europeans first arrived in South America to around 600,000 today. In the northern part of the species’ range, population size has fallen dangerously low. It’s estimated that just 200 Chacoan guanacos remain in the Bolivian grasslands due to cattle ranching, hunting and other human activities.

With the support of our donors, Nature and Culture is working in southeastern Bolivia to protect the Gran Chaco dry forest. Just this month, we supported the creation of the second largest conservation area in Bolivia’s Chaco.

Spanning three million acres, Ñembi Guasu provides habitat for the region’s abundant biodiversity, including Chacoan guanaco, armadillos and giant anteaters. The area will also protect the home and way of life of the indigenous Guaraní and Ayoreo peoples, the only native population outside the Amazon that remains in voluntary isolation. Learn more about this exciting achievement here.

Did you catch last month’s featured mammal? Check out this New World monkey.