South America


Desert, savanna, scrubland, and forest, including elevations up to 13,000 feet (3,900 meters)

Cool critters

Guanacos are graceful animals related to camels. Pronounced "gwa NAH ko," they are found throughout South America, living in dry, open country in the mountains or on the plains. Guanacos have a calm attitude, so people started to domesticate them for use as pack animals. The result is the llama of today, which is the domesticated version of the guanaco—llamas don’t exist in the wild. Another branch of the family tree is the alpaca, which is also a type of domesticated guanaco raised for its soft wool.

Funny name, familiar face

Everyone knows what a llama looks like, but what’s a guanaco? Standing just under 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall at the shoulder, guanacos have a slender body, long legs, and a long neck. They are shorter and smaller than their camel relatives. Although they seem delicate, guanacos can weigh up to 265 pounds (120 kilograms). Male guanacos are larger than the females.

All guanacos have a thick, wooly coat that can be light brown, brownish yellow, or a rusty red. Their belly, rump, and the backs of the legs are usually white; the head, ears, and nape of the neck are gray. These colors help the guanaco blend in with its grassland and desert habitats.

Llamas are descendants of wild guanacos that were domesticated 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. Andean peoples raise them for wool, meat, and skin and also used them as pack animals.
The extinct large-headed llama was 2 feet (0.6 meters) taller than its descendant, the guanaco.
Camels, guanacos, llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas are all members of the camel family.

The San Diego Zoo proudly received its first breeding pair of guanacos in 1968 and has been working hard for their preservation ever since. Today, the Zoo has both guanacos and llamas, which can be seen in Elephant Odyssey.

There used to be about 50 million guanacos in the world. Today there are less than 600,000, with about 90 percent living in Argentina. Habitat destruction plays a major role in their disappearance in the wild. Guanacos are used for their wool, meat, and skin, yet they are considered pests in parts of South America because they graze in certain regions where farmers keep their sheep.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.