Bleak World Environment Report Shows One Andean Success Story: The Vicuna
LIMA, Peru While a new environmental report gives a gloomy assessment of human management of the Earth, buried among its charts and graphs is one Andean success story that bucks the trend of a decline in wildlife species: the vicuna, a smaller, fleet-footed cousin of the camel.
The environmental group WWF issued its critique of unsustainable human consumption and its worldwide impact recently in Geneva, saying, among other things, that populations of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species fell on average by 40 percent between 1970 and 2000.
But the vicuna made a remarkable comeback, according to the report.
"They were on the endangered species list with numbers estimated at around 5,000 in the 1960s," said WWF's Peru spokeswoman Jacqueline Becker. Thanks to international efforts, there are now about 200,000.
"Any success story is important to point out because people feel like there's nothing that can be done," she said. "When people hear about the success stories, that motivates them."
Hundreds of thousands of vicuna once ranged throughout the Andes mountains from Ecuador to Argentina. They were considered sacred by the Inca Empire, which fell after the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1532.
But centuries later, demand for the creature's light-brown fur and the practice of hunters who killed the animal for its wool rather than shear it live led to devastating declines.
Peru led the way to save the vicuna in the 1960s, establishing the Pampa Galeras National Reserve today the species' principal sanctuary on a plateau 12,570 feet above sea level in the southeastern Andean department of Ayacucho.
Antonio Brack, a leading Peruvian ecologist, said vicunas were brought back from the edge by a combination of conservation measures, offering highland dwellers economic incentives to shear wool without killing the animals and regulating markets for the product.
The wool sells for between US$180 and $230 per pound, Brack said.
"They realize the wool is worth a lot of money, so they're protecting them," he said.
He said Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador followed Peru's lead, signing a 10-year pact with Peru in 1969 to preserve and replenish their herds. In 1979, another treaty was signed, imposing severe restrictions on the sale of vicuna wool.
Source: Associated Press