Guanaco were hunted for their fine fleece by the American Indians. Guanacos (Lama guanaco) are wild South American camelids found in limited numbers living in highly fragmented populations in the arid and mountainous regions of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru, from sea-level to 4000 m. Guanaco were driven to marginal habitats by pressures of hunting and extensive livestock grazing. They are now recognized internationally as an endangered species. From a population of 30-50 million currently just 600,000 survive in South America. Together with the wild vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) the guanaco derive from a common ancestor that migrated from North to South America about two million years ago.
DNA studies show that two sub-species of guanaco are found in South America:
Despite hybridisation, these colour variants are still evident in guanacos worldwide today.
British Guanaco were originally brought to the UK for zoos. Now there are a few herds of guanaco where fibre is grown for high quality coating type cloth. Like the alpaca the lack of lanolin in their fibre means that they require shelter from extreme wind and rain. Although natural shelter will often suffice purpose-built shelters are needed in the UK help to improve the quality of the fibre.
Good nutritional management is the key to British Guanaco fibre production. Guanacos have a double coat:
To separate the very valuable, downy undercoat part of the fleece and reveal its luxurious handle, the fibre must be de-haired. The end product is then similar to cashmere which has a similar micron diameter.
Although guanaco fibre is much finer than that from alpacas, fleece yields are not as heavy. Average fleece weights from live-shearing of free-ranging guanacos is around 0.31 kg and 0.38 kg for females and males, respectively.
British Guanaco yields are better due to better nutrition and it is possible to get a yield of around 1.0-1.5 kg of fibre from longer staples. Unlike the fibre of wild guanacos living in harsh conditions of the Altiplano where there is a lack of periodic protein and trace elements it is possible to eliminate the weak fibre. Research in Wales has shown that in wet areas increasing the intake of dry matter, and thus dietary protein, increases the staple length of guanaco fibre without affecting the micron size of the fibre. Supplementary feed throughout the year is very beneficial to improving fibre yield and quality in guanacos.