Vicuna is South American member of the camel family, Camelidae.
Like guanacos, vicunas are wild, with temperaments that preclude domestication.
Vicunas are found in semiarid rolling grasslands and plains at altitudes of 3,500 to 5,750 meters (about 11,500 to 18,850 feet). These lands are covered with short and tough vegetation. Due to their daily water demands, vicunas live in areas where water is readily accessible.
The lifespan of vicuna is about 15 to 20 years in the wild. In captivity, an individual was reported to have lived 24 years.
The vicuña is the smallest of the camelids. The length of head and body ranges from 1.45 to 1.60 m (about 5 ft) shoulder height is from 75 to 85 cm (29.5 to 33.5 in); its weight is from 35 to 65 kg (77 to 143 lb).
Vicuñas are renowned for their long, very fine, and yet strong wool, which makes a prized, expensive, lustrous, and exceptionally soft and warm cloth.
Their coat is tawny brown on the back, whereas the hair on the throat and chest is white.
Vicunas have unique rodent-like incisors that are covered with enamel on only one side. Features believed to be adaptations to high altitudes include a large heart, specialized blood cells with hemoglobin of greater affinty for oxygen, and a weight that is 50 % heavier than other mammals of the same size.
Vision and hearing is good, although the former is far more developed.
Vicunas live in family-based groups made up of a male, 5 to 15 females, and their young. Each group has itsown territory of about 18 square kilometers (7 square miles), which can fluctuate depending on the availability of food.
They feed in daytime on the grassy plains of the Andes Mountains, but spend the nights on the slopes.
The vicuña is very shy animal, and is easily aroused by intruders. When in danger, they emit a high, clearwhistle.
It can run very fast, at about 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour).
Mating usually occurs in March–April, and after a gestation period of about 11 months, the female gives birth to a single fawn, which is nursed for about 10 months. The fawn becomes independent at about 12 to 18 months old.
At the time they were declared endangered in 1974, only about 6,000 animals were left. Today, the vicuña population has recovered to about 350,000, and although conservation organizations have reduced its level of threat classification, they still call for active conservation programs to protect populations from poaching, habitat loss, and other threats.
The vicuña have had an interesting relationship with humans over time.
The Inca valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wearvicuña garments.
Today, the vicuña is mainly wild, but the local people still perform special rituals with these creatures,including a fertility rite.
The yield from individual animals is small, with about 40 animals needed to produce cloth for a coat, andthe animals being shorn only about every two to four years.
Prices for vicuña fabrics can range from US$1,800 to US$3,000 per meter.
A vicuña wool scarf costs around US$1,500. A vicuña sport coat from the Italian tailoring house Kiton costsat least US$21,000.
The vicuña is the national animal of Peru and appears in the Peruvian coat of arms.