Chaccu and the Sacred Vicuña

As a protected species in Peru, Chaccu is a humane and ancient method of obtaining wool from the sacred vicuña. The vicuña is the smallest of the South American camelids and is one of two species of camelid that is not domesticated. The animal lives in the plains of the high Andes, at altitudes of more than 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) above sea level. 80% of the world’s vicuñas live in Peru within large natural reserves where the Andean communities take great care to protect this sacred creature.

To pre-Hispanic cultures, vicuñas were considered sacred animals and were never used as sacrifice. Instead, the animal would be captured, sheared for its wool and released again into the wild. During Inca times, textiles made from vicuña wool were reserved only for royalty and the Inca emperor would only wear garments made of elaborately decorated vicuña wool.

While the vicuña is protected today, its wool is still incredibly valuable. One kilogram of luxurious vicuña fur can be sold on the market for approximately US $500. But rather than hunting the graceful creatures, the people of the Andes perform an annual shearing ritual called the “Chaccu,” a method of catching and shearing the vicuña that was developed by ancient Andean civilizations and is still utilized today.

During the Chaccu, the Andean people create an enormous organized community chain in which they herd the vicuñas into an enclosure. The people walk with rope extended between them while waving flags, producing noises with instruments and shouting “chaccu!” as they close in on the wild vicuñas. Eventually they will surround the animals completely and guide them into the enclosure where they are sheared. Vicuña fur grows very slowly, so each animal can only be sheared once every two years. Once the vicuñas have been sheared humanely without suffering any harm, they are released back into the wild and regrow their hair to be donated for a future Chaccu.

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