The guanaco is a slender, long-limbed animal, which is capable of fast movement over rugged terrain and is able to leap nimbly up mountain trails. It is adaptable to heat or cold and lives in open country and feeds on grass.
Guanacos have long limbs and necks for reaching food in trees and shrubs. They have brown, woolly fur on their upper bodies and necks, while their undersides have white hair.
Guanacos are considered the wild relatives of domestic llamas and alpacas. They are distant cousins of the camels of Africa and Asia. Like camels, guanacos have adapted to living in dry areas, although their preferred habitat – alpine grassland – is not as hot as the habitats of most camels.
Like their domestic relatives, guanacos are fast runners. They have more haemoglobin (oxygen-carrying pigment) in their red blood cells than any other mammal. This allows them to survive at altitude. Guanacos mainly graze on grass, but they also pluck leaves from shrubs. They live in herds of about 15 individuals. Each herd is controlled by one adult male. Once a young guanaco reaches adulthood, it is chased away by the dominant male.
Males are polygamous and lead harems of 4 to 10 females with their young, which they defend, fighting off any rivals or intruders that try to steal one of their females. Young males and males without harems also form herds.
The female gives birth every other year, producing a single young after a gestation period of between 10 and 11 months. The young guanaco is active soon after birth and is able to run with speed and grace.
Llamas and alpacas are domesticated forms of the guanaco and they are bred as draft animals and fleece producers respectively. They interbreed readily with one another and with wild guanacos.
Distribution: Southern Peru to Argentina and Chile.
Habitat: Dry, open areas; semidesert to about 16,500 ft (5,000 m).
Size: 1.2 – 2.5 m (4 – 8.25 ft); 100 – 120 kg (220 – 264 lb). Height at shoulder 0.9 – 1.3 m (3 –4.25 ft).
Maturity: Females 2 years; males 4 years.
Breeding: Single young born in spring.
Life span: 28 years.