As well as being the most elegant and noble of animals, the Vicuna is one of the rarest animals in South America – it is often referred to as, “Princess of the Andes”. It lives on the high plains between 3500 and 5000m of the high Andean Cordillera in an area which includes south-eastern Peru, western Bolivia, north- eastern Chile and north-western Argentina.
The Vicuna has very strong teeth which they grow and sharpen continuously on tufts of stipa, a very tough grass. They also graze on a saxifrage grass found around depressions where salty and calcareous water emerges or gathers.
These small, attractive animals have slender bodies, long necks, small heads, large pretty eyes and small straight ears. They are attentive and watchful, shy and sensitive, and their long thin legs allow them to be fast runners. They can run at 60-70 km/h over any terrain and can maintain that speed over significant distances. Their blood contains a very high density of red corpuscles which allows them to achieve this in such rarefied air.
In 1976 the CITES (Convention of international trade in Endangered Species) included the Vicuna ensuring the maximum protection of the species.
The fibre is the finest of all natural fibres – typically 11 to 12 mic. It is also prized for its rarity, warmth and softness. These properties are a consequence of tiny scales that are on the hollow air filled fibres which interlock and trap insulating air.
The fibre is sensitive to chemical treatments and so is usually left in natural colours.
Vicunas produce only small amounts of extremely fine fibre, which makes it very expensive. The fibre is used in fine sweaters, socks, shawls, coats and suits, with a vicuna coat easily being able to cost more than $20,000.