Today, we show gratitude for the diverse natural environments that grant us clear air to breathe, fresh water to drink, and green spaces to enjoy. So far 2020 has shown us we are more dependent than ever on healthy, resilient ecosystems. On the United Nations’ International Day for Biological Diversity, we are given an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with the earth's diverse ecosystems.
The South American camelid industry offers a window into the importance of preserving biodiversity for rural communities around the world. Four species of South American camelids - vicuña, guanaco, alpaca, and llama - can be found throughout Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, and each play a key role in shaping and maintaining their habitats.
In the early 20th century, a rise in international demand for their coveted fibres led to improper shearing methods, in which the animal was sheared too often or killed for their fur. These practices, in combination with hunting and habitat loss, caused the vicuña species to be almost driven to extinction in the 1960s. The species has rebounded thanks to conservation efforts, and now there are approximately 150,000 vicuñas inhabiting Peru.
Biodiversity can be found in almost every terrestrial and aquatic biome on the planet. The High Andean Plateau of the Central Andes, or La Ecorregión Puna, is shared by Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile at an altitude of 3,500-4,000 meters. Its cold, desert climate is marked by extreme temperature variations and its rocky soils give life only to the hardiest of plants. Despite these harsh conditions, authorities have established designated “reservoirs of biodiversity”, where species coexist, compete, and thrive. Many notable species, such as the Andean condor, call La Puna home. One of the world’s largest species of flying birds, the Andean condor fills an important role as a scavenger in the food chain. Sadly, it has been deemed a threatened species due to human activity.
The proper management of camelid populations in South America is crucial to ensure vibrant ecosystems that will remain stable for years to come. Natural ecosystems exist in a perfect balance dictated by nature. If one species becomes overpopulated, the entire system can be disrupted. For instance, if camelid producers cannot earn a fair price on their product at the market, they may be forced to breed more animals, leading to increased grazing and the erosion of land. On the other hand, communities must not be deprived of their livelihoods. Therefore, camelids have been and will continue to be responsibly managed throughout the La Puna region.
Due to their high value and potential for socioeconomic development, the stringent preservation of camelid species is not a viable option. Rural Andean communities depend on them as one of their only sources of income. Through capacity building efforts, animaná, among other brands, have sought to bring these artisanal products to the international fashion market. By developing the camelid industry, animaná and similar brands have reduced migration to urban areas and prevented ecosystem disruption.
Modern conservation efforts must take into account the importance and potential of partnerships between local residents and the state. As the UN states in SDG #13: “Promoting a sustainable use of our ecosystems and preserving biodiversity is not a cause. It is the key to our own survival.” By upholding centuries old ancestral methods of maintaining biodiversity, humans and camelid species, will continue to live in harmony.
Author: Hannah Bobker
Editors: Hailey Matarese and Alondra Magana
Maria Ángeles Pérez-Cabal, Fibre production in South American camelids and other fibre animals(2011), http://dx.doi.org/10.3920/978-90-8686-727-1.
Puig, Silvia; Ferraris, Guillermo; Superina, Mariela; Videla, Fernando, Distribución de densidades de guanacos ( Lama guanicoe) en el norte de la reserva La Payunia y su área de influencia (Mendoza, Argentina), https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/428/42801204.pdf
Biodiversity Conservation and Habitat Management - Volume I editado por Franccesa Gherardi, Claudia Corti, Manuela Gualtierii