Regional authorities in the southeastern Peruvian province of Huaytará announced on Sunday that 480 vicuñas (a relative of the llama) had been killed and robbed of their precious fur, reaching an estimated value of about $50,000. Vicuña poaching has been on the rise in recent years partly due to worsening poverty—the fur of four of these animals carries a value of $400 in the local market and up to $2,000 internationally. It is one of the finest fibers in the world.
The poachers—many of whom are thought to be locals—use binoculars and firearms to trap the vicuñas and an existing route to “transport the fiber toward the south of Peru to the border of Bolivia,” explained Jorge Quinto, the region’s manager of natural resources. Illegal poaching harms a local population that counts on these animals as part of their daily survival.
The government is trying to crack down on poachers, but “it’s hard to catch them,” explains Ulario Maita, president of a local vicuna villager association. The justice system doesn’t pursue poachers, and if caught, they rarely serve prison sentences. To curtail poaching, Maita says that the villagers would need better equipment and vehicles to pursue the criminals, along with increased community pressure. This is the formula that helped to repopulate herds in the 1990s.