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The vicuña is a wild South American camelid which lives in the high alpine areas of the Andes. It is a relative of the llama and is now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas, which are raised for their fiber. Vicuña fiber is popular due to its warmth. Its warming properties come from the tiny scales that are on the hollow air filled fibers. It causes them to interlock and trap insulating air. At the same time, it is finer than any other wool in the world, but since it is sensitive to chemical treatment, the wool is usually left in its natural color.n
The vicuña only produces about one pound of wool a year and gathering it required a certain process during the time of the Incas. Vicuña fibers were annually gathered through communal efforts called chacu. Here, hundreds of thousands of people would herd hundreds of thousands of vicuña into previously laid funnel traps. The animals would be sheared and then released. This was only done every four years.n
The vicuña was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Because of this, it was against the law for anyone to kill a vicuña or wear its fleece, except for Inca royalty. The Peruvian government has a labeling system that identifies all garments that have been created through a government sanctioned chacu. This guarantees the animal was captured, sheared alive, returned to the wild, and cannot be sheared again for another two years. The program also ensures a large portion of the profits return to the villagers. Although it is possible to commercially produce wool from domesticated vicuñas, it is difficult because they tend to escape.