National Geographic : 1973 Jan
into which the animals were chased. Notice that there are breaks in the wall. Do you see what lies behind these breaks? Pits! The run ning animals would fall into them, and snap! Their forelegs would break. "That is a kill trap. But up there is a live trap, a walled enclosure in which vicufias were caught and sheared, then released." The Incas some five centuries ago organized great hunts in which thousands of the ani mals were captured by a great ring of hunters (painting, pages 86-7). The surplus males and old or inferior animals were killed. The rest were shorn and set free to graze unmolested for four years, until their wool and their numbers had been replenished. Conservation was the rule then, a rule strictly enforced: None but those of royal birth might wear the precious wool. Violators were executed. The Spaniards changed all that, and slaughter continued until recent times. But the people of the altiplano retained their fondness and respect for the animals. To this day most resent poachers who occasionally invade the region to kill vicufias-something they rarely do themselves. Yet the Indians prize parts of the animals, and credit them with magic properties. When Feliciano and I one afternoon encountered two bands for several years, then es- Dawn-to-du tablish their own territories and the ecologist find mates. Here Peruvia highland sheepherders chin to chin in noisy dispute over the body of a newborn cria, I began to learn how intimately the vicufia is involved with Andean custom and folklore. My understanding of the local Quechua dialect is sketchy, so Feliciano interpreted the loud diatribes. "They each claim the carcass," he said. "There isn't enough meat or skin to be worth that much rage," I told him. "Of course not!" said Feliciano. "But it is the stomach they want." Fleetness Stirs Yearning of Indians My companion explained that the local people use the baby vicufia stomach for curdling milk to make cheese. They regard the flavor of such cheese as especially delec table and of a superior freshness. The hand some bib of white hair that hangs down from the vicufia's lower neck and chest is favored for making the sack that carries the narcotic coca leaves the Indians habitually chew. And inhaling the smoke from bib hairs, they think, will ward off illness. "iParaque corra como la vicunia!-May he run like the vicufia!"-is the mountain peo ple's ardent wish. To bestow the animal's speed and endurance on their children, the sk vicufia vigils for more than three years occupied author, right, with "Puppy" as his constant companion. n game guard Saturno Torres Blanco lends assistance.