When traveling to other countries, one does not only want to marvel at the nature and the flora but also to observe the animals living there at close range. Especially those species that may not be easily seen in a zoo. Llamas are trendy at the moment. They decorate clothes, various gifts, and are used as emojis. But have you ever heard of the guanaco animal?
The guanaco or Lama guanicoe belongs to the genus of llamas, is a wild camel species, and is actually the ancestor of the domesticated llama. With their woolly and dense fur, these animals can weigh up to 120 kilograms and reach a head-body length of up to 2,20 mts/7.2 Ft. Their fur is light brown and their head and tail are usually black, making them easily distinguishable from other llama breeds.
Guanacos feed mainly on grasses, live in herds, and can be found at altitudes of up to 4000 meters/2.5 miles. A natural enemy of the guanaco in the wild is the puma. Guanacos live in large parts of the Andes, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Without doubt, the most important fact about the guanaco is this: they are the only llama species that really spit. The misbelief that alpacas or llamas spit in zoos is widespread but in reality, only guanacos spit.
If you get too close or if they feel threatened, they spit. They do this in a targeted manner and the sticky spit is carried out of their mouth at high speed. There is also the theory that spitting is a natural reaction of the guanacos to herbivorous food and that spitting eliminates tasty grasses.
Whatever the reason for spitting, it is better not to get rid of the saliva. Although the guanaco is originally a wild lama species, there are more and more projects and farms that keep guanacos in herds and shear them. The guanaco wool is particularly fine and very popular for knitted clothing, which is processed and sold by regional weavers.
Guanaco Patagonia in the wild
As mentioned earlier, guanacos only live in a few countries in South America. Since the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the animals were hunted for their fur and to gain grazing land for sheep. Nowadays guanacos are threatened by extinction and therefore difficult to find, for example in Peru, Bolivia, or Paraguay.
In Argentina and Chile, more precisely in Patagonia, however, there are still large herds of guanacos. They can be observed and photographed relatively easily in the wild. They can adapt very well and live on wide grasslands and at altitudes of about 4000 meters/2.5 miles and withstand strong cold and winds.
During your trip to Patagonia, you will often encounter herds of guanaco. For example, in the famous Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, there are great chances of coming across a small group of guanacos on the way to the park entrance. No need to book a tour, the animals rest peacefully in groups next to the road. They are easy to spot because the area along the road to the park is flat and spacious. The light brown fur camouflages well with the colors of the vegetation, but the black tails and faces betray the animals.
Basically, guanacos are not shy of humans, but if too many people approach at once, they will seek refuge. If you sneak up carefully and quietly, you can get relatively close to herds of guanacos and sometimes take wonderful photos. Therefore, it is recommendable to search in smaller groups and to avoid much frequented times of day on the routes to the park, thus in the morning or early evening.
If fewer people and cars are seen, the more guanacos can be observed in the wild. And don’t forget: never annoy a guanaco, it might spit! Most of the time it never happens, because if the animals feel uncomfortable, they simply walk away light-footed. Patagonia still has the largest population of guanacos.
The charming animals are not only on the Chilean side but also in the Argentinean part of Patagonia. Besides the often-uncomfortable weather conditions on the Tierra del Fuego Island, you can meet herds of guanaco on your journey through the endless grasslands. The same applies here: the calmer you are, the more you can observe the natural behavior of the animals.
For photographers, a special snapshot is that moment when the guanaco looks exactly in your direction with its head raised and ears pricked up. It is a great gift to observe animals like guanacos in the wild without having to book a tour or safari. You may see guanacos on your way to one of the many excursions and walks in Patagonia, just keep your eyes open!