Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 10-- Sustainability of Vicuña Conservation in Bolivia

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This is the tenth post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

This chapter is titled, The Sustainability of Vicuña Conservation in Bolivia, and is written by Melissa Grigione (a former colleague from the University of South Florida who is now at Pace University), Lisa F. Daugherty (currently with Kleinfelder, Inc.), Rurik List (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Lerma, Estado de Mexico), Jonathan Rushton (University of Liverpool), and my colleague Ronald Sarno of Hofstra University. The chapter focuses on reviewing the state of vicuña management throughout all of South America with a particular focused case study in Bolivia.

Vicuña are camelid species native to South America. They are related to the alpaca and other camelids like the llama. Their range is relatively limited to the slopes of the Andes. Due to unchecked hunting, they almost went extinct. However, their population has increased tremendously in recent years as demand for their wool has increased in the global market. They are marginally domesticated, in that they live in small groups (one male and several females) in the wild but are herded annually for shearing. The vicuña produce a limited amount of wool each year. As the authors note, in Bolivia, the average amount of wool that can be obtained from the animal is only 220 grams. Given the labor intensive nature of gathering wool from animals that are more or less wild, the costs for the wool is rather high. A 200 yard length of vicuña yarn costs over $300 dollars and clothing made from vicuña generally runs in the thousands of dollars.

In 1965, there were only 6,279 vicuña in South America, with most of them living in Peru. At the time, there were only 1079 in Bolivia. By 2008, the total population jumped to 347,243 with most of them in Peru. There were 62,869 in Bolivia. Roughly 79% of the animals live dispersed in the wild and their wool is gathered outside of national management schemes. However, 21% live within designated conservation zones where local populations facilitate the management and collection of wool. The chapter provides a detailed description of where and how vicuña are managed in the region.

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The chapter then moves into a description of the household economics of vicuña wool collection. Generally for those involved in vicuña wool production, the harvesting accounts for 31-65% of the family income. The chapter also details how indigenous communities organize for annual wool collection and associated marketing. The chapter also details pricing and costs associated with vicuña production

As with other sections of the book, the chapter concludes with sections on Lessons Learned and Challenges and Barriers. There is no doubt that vicuña populations are increasing in the Andes and in Bolivia. This is causing some stress and conflicts within communities. The vicuña fibers are extremely valuable and thus there is growing interest in how to increase production. In addition, some vicuña are hunted and killed for their wool which goes against existing conservation measures. The growth in vicuña numbers is coming into conflict with traditional domesticated livestock production.

Click here to for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on vicuña management in the Andes and Bolivia.

1. According to Table 10.1, the vicuña numbers have increased tremendously in South America in recent years. Why did the numbers increase?

2. The vicuña produce a very small amount of fiber each year and it is very expensive. Why is vicuña fiber so valuable?

3. The vicuña are skittish animals who don't like to be around people. How are they captured for shearing?

4. The value of vicuña is so high that it is competing with other economic activities in the Andes. What other activities provide household income in the region?

5. The chapter discusses the role of the Ayllu in vicuña management. What is an Ayllu and what is their role?

6. If vicuña populations increase, what types of conservation challenges will emerge in the coming decades?

7. Bolivia doesn't have an organized system of large-scale commercial harvesting. What would enhanced harvesting do to the production of vicuña fiber?

8. Some regions of the Andes have very low fiber yields per animal. What could be the cause of this issue?


Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan
Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont
Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City
Chapter 9. Waste Management Outlook for the Middle East

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