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vicuña (vĭko͞oˈnyə, vĭkyo͞oˈnə), wild South American hoofed mammal, Vicugna vicugna, the smallest member of the camel family. It is 30 in. (75 cm) high at the shoulder, with a long, slender neck and pale, fawn coloring. Vicuñas live in herds on high plateaus of the Andes, at altitudes of 14,000 to 18,000 ft (4,300–5,500 m); they feed on grasses and other vegetation.

Their fleece is exceptionally soft and silky, and in the time of the Incas was reserved for royal robes. The vicuña has never been successfully domesticated; wild herds were rounded up for shearing. Hunted to the verge of extinction for its wool and flesh, it is now protected and has recovered. Today wool is harvested from animals in the wild and others confined to ranches or enclosed ranges.

The vicuña is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Camelidae.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Vicugna vicugna), a mammal of the family Camelidae. It is 70-90 cm tall, about 1.5 m long, and weighs up to 65 kg. The body is covered with short but soft thick fur consisting mainly of downy hairs. In the adult animal it is rust-colored on the back and sides and light gray on the underside. The fleece weighs 800-1,000 g.

Vicun̄as live in small herds in the high-mountain regions of the Andes. The female bears one offspring. At the beginning of the 19th century Vicun̄as were rather common in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Their area has been significantly diminished as a result of predatory extermination. They have been best preserved in some remote provinces of Peru.


Khaveson, la. I. “Dikie i domashnie formy verbliudovykh.” In the anthology Problemy proiskhozhdeniia, evoliutsii i porodoobrazovaniia domashnikh zhivotnykh, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Koford, C. B. “The Vicun̄a and the Puna.” Ecological Monographs, 1957, vol. 27, no. 2. Pages 153-219.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
Lama vicugna. A rare, wild ruminant found in the Andes mountains; the fiber of the vicuna is strong, resilient, and elastic but is the softest and most delicate of animal fibers.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.