Guanaco, the next sustainable luxury fiber from Argentina, Patagonia

From the Patagonian steppe an animal of beauty viewed as a pest; new guanaco fiber mill and sustainable luxury for sheering not shooting

By Gregory Jackson

Polito p

I recently read In Chile, an Animal Whose Numbers Please No One, and I reached out to Argentina conservation.  This story reminded me about my time at Cleveland Metroparks, to assist the Park conduct research on vegetation surveys throughout 5 Reservations, using botany scientific methods.  While our focus was to establish baseline data on how to measure healthy forest monitoring (like a long term stock ticker) in Northeast Ohio, ecosystems are affected by imbalances, including the deer population:  If you can imagine how deer browse your favorite flowers and shrubs, imagine what they do to the Park?  In their browsing wake they left a cohort of missing trees/shrubs of sapling age, or plants ranging in height from your ankle to your chin.

Guanaco numbers have dropped from 50 million to 500,000, due to herds of sheep; sheep ranchers have shot guanaco in belief that guanaco compete with sheep for food sources.

“We are indeed having trouble in Patagonia with ranch owners,” writes Gabriela Lichtenstein, investigadora adjunta from the Instituto Nacional de Anthropologia y Pensamiento Latinoamericano.  ” At present we are working on a big project to develop guanaco fiber commodity chain.”

Lichtenstein and her team of researchers have observed the affects of live sheering guanaco for fiber.  In fact, I asked her if hats and scarves can be knit from guanaco since I knit hats and scarves.

“I’m sure that guanaco hats (and scarves) can be knit.  However, you have to bear in mind that guanaco fiber is a luxury fibre and pretty expensive… USD $600 per kilo.  It takes about a month to weave a kilo of guanaco fiber into yarn.  We bought a mini mill in order to make the procedure faster.  We hope to finish building the warehouse where the machine will be installed in December (2014).”

In order to understand the health of live capture and release on wild guanaco, scientists explore 3 areas.

1.  Shearing during post-partum and pre-partum stages.   Sheep ranch and shearing during post-partum stage (January) in 2005 and 2007 and at the Reserve capture during pre-partum stage (September-October) during 2005-2010.  Guanaco offspring ability to follow their mother in post-partum were compared to movement parameter among populations shorn before and after birthing.  They found lower survival at Cabez de Vaca Ranch than in La Payunia Reserve because of fences, competition with sheep, and handling protocol differentiation.  In La Payunia Reserve, sheering did not reduce breeding success.  Grazing paddock marked by fencing in Patagonia disrupts guanaco migration.  Conclusion:  post-partum and pre-partum should not be done in the same year (“Effects of live-shearing on population parameters and movement in sedentary and migratory populations of guanacos Lama guanicoe” by Pablo D. Carmanchahi, Fauna & Flora International, Oryx, 2014 ).

2.Dilution Effect.  Guanaco population were studies in Payunia Reserve (10,000 guanaco), featuring the location where guanaco conservation has seen hope for local people’s livelihood and help Park conservation enforcement.   While guanaco are a social species, they do not practice dilution effect, but rather vigilance.  In dilution effect it’s expected that, larger groups respond with less flight time.  In fact, as guanaco group (or the Guanaco Unit) increases, greater flight time is observed because they perceive safety in numbers.  In live sheering protocol this means that natural predators, like the puma, pose a greater risk to guanaco survival than sheering (“Cooperative Vigilance:  The guanaco’s (Lama guanicoe) key antipredator by Paula Taraborelli, Elsevier Behavioural Process, (2012) 82-89).

3.  Glucocorticoids(GCs).  GCs are adrenal steroids that play an important role in environmental stresses.  Hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is a valuable variable measurement when monitoring animal health, cortisol, and corticosterone.  If HPA is prolonged the stress on the animal could be negative, but short-term activation could be beneficial:  It is similar to exercising, but with a healthy and quick response to acute environmental stressors.

In the Payunia, the Reserve has faced severed land degradation because of cattle over-grazing, but supports Argentina’s largest migratory population of guanaco (10,000).  Researchers found that guanaco cortisol levels increase, but corticosterone levels remain stable.  This differentiation show that these hormones respond differently.  Corticosterone increase in birds have resulted in poor flight and begging for food; in other instances an increase affects long term memory, particularly fear.  The researchers believe that in guanaco their corticosterone levels could be elevated by drought, if they are dehydrated (Ovejero R, Novillo A, Soto-Gamboa M, Mosca-Torres ME, Cuello P, Gregorio P, Jahn G, Carmanchahi P. 2013.  Do cortisol and corticosterone play the same role in coping with stressors?  Measuring glucocorticoid serum in free-ranging guanacos (Lama guanicoe). J. Zool. 9999A:1-9).

In 2014, Lichenstein’s team harvested 100kg of fiber.  Next month she is offering a new training course for the local cooperative, to educate the local population on how to live-sheer guanaco fiber to build sustainable guanaco fiber commodity supply chains.

You may ask why are we writing about luxury?  Groundz is focused on sustainable agriculture, the importance of raw material supply chain sourcing, creating closed-loop systems.  Whether in recycling food waste for urban farmers to grow local food, education to teach students about sustainable business, or wellness having a less wasteful world is what it is all about.

Pancha p

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