Camel Pictures and Facts

South American Camels

A llama

A llama.

Image Source: Christopher Walker / License under Creative Commons 2.0

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Though camels are often identified with the deserts of Arabia (the dromedary) or the steppes of eastern Asia (the Bactrian), four of the six members of the Camelidae family are found in South America. The South American llama (Lama glama), alpaca (Lama pacos), guanaco (Lama guanacoe), and vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) may be further distinguished as domesticated, i.e., llama and alpaca, or as wild animals, i.e., guanaco and vicuna. Like their Arabian and Asian counterparts, the South American camels have the ability to survive arid climates through their capacity to take water from their body tissue equivalent to 30% of their entire weight.
[1] Unlike the Bactrian and the dromedary, South American camels do not have humps; but, they do share the characteristic Camelid distinguishing trait of padded feet rather than hoofs-- to keep them from sinking into drifting sand-- as well as uniquely, oval shaped red blood cells-- to allow for the expansion of the cells without rupturing, when the Camelid drinks large amounts of water. [2]

An alpaca

An alpaca.

Image Source: "Cyron" / License under Creative Commons 2.0

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Evidence suggests that both the llama and alpaca were bred by the native people of the Andes from the guanaco or the vicuna-- the alpaca for its light, silky, warm, hypoallergenic fleece, and the the llama for its beast of burden capability of carrying 25 to 30 per cent of its body weight.
[3] [4] Docile in temperament, the llama was used as a pack animal by the Incas. Llamas are two to three times the size of an alpaca, and an alpaca stands about 36 inches (91 cm) at the withers (between the shoulder blades) with a weight between 100 to 175 pounds (45-80 kg). Alpaca population estimates were, in 1972, in Peru: 2,000,000, in Bolivia: 50,000; and, in 1996, in North America: less than 8,000. [5] The market value of an alpaca, in 1997, was between $8,500 and $25,000 per animal. At one time, alpaca fibers were allowed only to be worn by Inca royalty. As precious a commodity as the alpaca have been, it is interesting to note that a large dog costs about as much to feed per day as an alpaca, and one acre provides enough space to easily raise five to ten alpacas.

sitting camel

Image Source for two camels: Neil Carey
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