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The Study Subjects: Vicunas and Pumas

Wildlife Ecology in San Guillermo National Park

The goal of this study is to determine the effects of puma predation on vicunas and on the biological communities that pumas and vicunas inhabit.


In the area, the only predator capable of hunting guanacos and vicunas is the puma. These large cats are found throughout the Americas from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.

Depending on where they are found, pumas are also known as cougars or mountain lions. The pumas that inhabit North, Central and South America are slightly different but all belong to the same species. In other words, a puma in Alaska is just the same as a puma found in any other country of the Americas.  They all share the scientific name of Puma. Pumas evolved in North America 5 to 6 million years ago and colonized Central and South America. Pumas finally arrived in South America approximately 2.5 million years ago.


Mom and Babies

           National Park Administration,


Researchers have studied the food habits of pumas throughout the Americas. They prefer to  feed on large prey such as deer, peccaries (a type of wild pig), antelope, guanacos, and vicunas. In San Guillermo National Park:


Mice make up 11% of the puma's diet.


Hares make up 9% of the puma's diet.

Vicuna as Food

The rest of the puma's diet, a whopping 80%, comes from vicunas!


Like most cats, pumas are stalking predators that rely on cover and stealth to approach and ambush their prey.


Sites where pumas can hide are more dangerous for their prey. This area provides both good grazing for vicunas and good hunting for pumas.

Hiding places

Rocky outcrops also provide good cover for pumas.


Vicuna and Guanaco: Wild Camelids in San Guillermo National Park

Guanaco and Vicuna grazing

In San Guillermo National Park, guanacos and vicunas graze in flat open plains and meadows. This is the largest coexisting population of guanacos and vicuna in South America.


Native to South America

Guanacos and vicunas who are members of the camel family evolved in South America, likely between 2 and 3 million years ago. Since then, they have been roaming in the arid and semi-arid landscapes of South America.


Vicunas (scientific name Vicuna vicuna) are only found in four countries of South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.


Guanaco (scientific name Lama guanaco) have a wider range than vicuna and are found in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina.


Wild and Domestic: How are Vicuna, Guanaco, Alpaca and Llama Related?

Vicuna, guanaco, alpaca and llama are members of the camel family.

In the wild the vicuna and guanaco are only found in South America where they evolved  without the influence of human beings.

Llamas and alpaca are the domestic forms of the vicuna and guanaco, the result of human manipulation that started several thousand years ago. They can be found through out Latin America and have been imported to the United States, Canada and Europe. Llamas are raised for meat and wool, used as pack animals and, in some places, used to guard sheep herds. Alpacas are prized for the quality of their wool.

Wild and Domestic: How are Vicuna, Guanaco, Alpaca and Llama related?

Recent genetic studies show that alpacas are a domestic form of the vicuña, while the llamas are a domestic form of the guanaco. The scientific names have not yet been changed to reflect this. When they are, Alpaca will be named Vicuna vicuna pacos and llama will be named Lama guanaco glama.

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