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Animals on Aconcagua

By
Theresa Daus-Weber

Because of the harsh weather conditions of Aconcagua’s high altitude ecosystem there is low bio-
diversity and few animals live on the mountain. The animals that can be found on Aconcagua have
adapted to the arid high altitude. They live in the lower areas of the mountain up to approximately
13,000 feet above sea level. The predominant vegetation that the animals live on is vegetation that has
adapted to resist low temperatures, poor soils, and snow and wind storms. These conditions contribute
to the vegetations’ stunted and shrubby features.

Wild animals on Aconcagua are the mountain rats, red fox, some amphibians and reptiles indigenous to
high mountain regions, herds of guanacos, and the guanacos’ predator, the puma. European hares
abound and are an exotic species growing wild in the region. Mules are domestic pack animals that are
used on Aconcagua on non-technical routes. Mules can pack climbers’ gear and supplies up to
approximately 14,000 feet.

As an adaptation to the cold weather, the animal species are in general big-sized which prevents them
from losing body heat. The high altitude mammals grow thick fur to protect them from the cold
temperatures. The guanacos, pumas, and foxes migrate to lower areas during winter for milder weather
conditions. Mountain mice and other sedentary species that are unable to travel long distances,
hibernate in their holes during winter.

Guanaco
The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is a native to South America related to the camel family as are their
“cousins” vicuñas and the domesticated llamas and alpacas. Guanacos stand between 3.5 and 4 feet at
the shoulder and weigh about 200 pounds. Members of the camel family have two toes on each foot.
Because they live in arid high altitude, guanacos
survive by licking nutrients and dew from desert
cacti.

The guanaco’s color ranges from light brown to


dark cinnamon turning to white underneath.
Guanacos have large heads, grey faces, long necks,
big, pointed ears, and short tails. They are striking
with their large, alert brown eyes, streamlined
form, and energetic pace. The name guanaco
comes from the South American language Quechua
word "huanaco."

Guanaco Herds
Guanacos are one of the largest wild mammal
species found in South America along with the
manatee, the tapir, and the puma. Guanacos live in
Mary Frances Howard
Guanacos can run at a speed up to 35 miles per hour. herds composed of females, their young up to 1

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year old, and a dominant male. Bachelor males form separate herds after they are forced from the
females’ herd when they are 1 year old. Bachelor herds may have as many as 50 guanacos. Once these
males reach about 5 years old they leave to try to lead their own herd of females. Female groups tend to
be small, often containing no more than 10 adults.

Mating season occurs between November and February where males fight violently to establish
dominance and breeding rights. They try to bite each other’s front legs, twisting their necks together in
the process. They also try to push each other down to their knees. Guanacos may spit when they are
fighting. The loser of the fight has to leave; the winner becomes leader of the herd. Eleven months after
mating, a single calf, or chulengo, is born. Calves are able to walk immediately after birth and they can
keep up with the herd. Guanaco typical life span is 20 to 25 years.

Guanacos have only one natural predator, the puma. When they feel threatened guanacos alert the
herd to flee with a high-pitched bleating call and will spit when threatened. The male will usually run
behind to defend the herd. They can run with a speed 35 miles per hour, even over steep and rocky
terrain. To protect its neck from harm, the guanaco has developed thicker skin on its neck, a trait still
found in its domestic counterparts, the llama and alpaca, and its wild cousin, the vicuña. Guanacos were
once overhunted for their thick, warm wool. Now they thrive in areas protected by law.

Mules
To assist climbers on the Normal Route on Aconcagua, outfitters use mules to carry climbers’ gear up to
14,000 feet. Each mule carries approximately 130 pounds. These mules pasture during autumn, winter,
and spring (from the middle of March to the middle of November) before starting their work during the
summer season. At the beginning of the Aconcagua season the mules are transported by truck to Puente
del Inca (8,960 feet). After a few trips to Plaza de Mulas (13,976 feet) the mules rest several days to
recover. The
mules are
handled by
professional
muleteers,
called
“arrieros.”

Aconcagua Trek
Mules carry about130 pounds of climbers gear on non-technical routes on Mount Aconcagua.

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