A Bolivian town has successfully used the local farming community to boost once dwindling numbers of llamas, by encouraging farmers to breed the iconic Andean animal for wool. Roselle Chen reports.
Freshly shorn llamas run free in the Bolivian Andes. This wasn't always the case - just 2,000 remained by 1968 from an estimated half a million. Felix Gonzalez is Bolivia's director of the National Park Service and Protected Areas. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE AND PROTECTED AREAS (SERNAP), FELIX GONZALEZ, SAYING: "The story of the llama, after the Spanish arrived, is of extreme over-exploitation. They were hunted and there were no preservation plans. Thanks to international cooperation and various governments, numbers have increased to about 112,000 llamas." A breeding program launched in 1998 helps preserve the country's llama population, while allowing local farmers to significantly increase their income by selling its precious wool. Last year, the town of Villazon made $900,000 (USD) from the sale of llama wool, netting each farmer at least $2,000. The average income of Bolivians is $2,800. There are believed to be around 7 million llamas worldwide, with many roaming free in the high plains of Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Argentina. The animals are prized for their soft wool. Shawls and blankets made from it can fetch several thousand dollars due to its relative scarcity and fine quality.