The South-American Camelids or the New-World Camelids are even-toed ungulates native to the Andes Mountains on the western side of South America. The extant members of this family are: Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuñas, and Guanacos which are closely related to the Old-World Camelids (the Dromedary Camel, the Bactrian Camel and the Wild Bactrian Camel ).
Unlike camels, they don’t have the characteristic camel’s hump, they are slender-bodied animals that have long legs and necks, and short tails. It’s thought that Camelids first appeared very early in the evolution of the even-toed ungulates, around 45 million years ago during the middle Eocene, in present-day North America. Much time later, the family diversified and prospered, and representatives arrived in Asia (Old-World Camelids) and others arrived in South America (New-World Camelids), while Camelids became extinct in their area of origin.
The South-American Camelids live primarily at high altitudes in both open grasslands and forests. The pads on their toes help them to maintain grip on steep and rocky terrains, and as Old-World Camelids, they have elliptical red blood cells and this facilitates their flow during dehydration. Having elliptical red blood cells is also a very useful adaptation to increase oxygen carrying potential especially when they face a medium with little available oxygen where they usually live.
In the wild, the South American Camelids’ herd consists of a male (Stag) and half a dozen or so females (Dams), each with a single young (Cria). Young crias are chased from the group when they are between a year and a year and a half old, then they join a bachelor herd until they can later form their own family groups. Young dams join a new group and mate, producing young after a gestation period of about 11 to 12 months.
South-American Camelids are well suited to areas where amount of food is poor and there are long periods of drought during the year. They are adapted to exploit the poor and fibrous vegetation of mountain ecosystems which may not be handled by other ruminants. South-American Camelids are usually raised for wool production, as beasts of burden and as pets. In South America, they are also used for meat and pelt production. South-American Camelids reach sexual maturity at 10-12 months, but they usually don’t breed until their second or third year.