Llamas help Andes peoples survive, but youths are leaving

The Tribune

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SANTIAGO DE MACHACA, Bolivia — Stormy winds, frosty nights and a scorching midday sun make life difficult on the Andean plateau, but the docile, tough-natured llama is one reason why indigenous people have been able to survive the harsh conditions for millennia.

With an estimated 3.1 million llamas and alpacas in Bolivia, the South American country counts more of the coarse-haired mammals than any other nation in the world, relying on it to haul goods up steep mountainsides, provide meat, wool and leather.

The llama, which is a relative of the camel, also holds a sacred place in Aymara and Quechua rituals for Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Throughout various regions of the country, herdsmen bury llama fetuses that have not survived birth, hoping to receive rain and good harvests in return. Many local priests also water the earth with llamas’ warm, sacrificial blood.

“You have to give (the gods) an offering,” said herdsman Francisco Tellez, who lives in the town of Curahuara de Carangas and says that he has a special connection with the animal. “The llama understands me. I whistle and he recognizes me.”

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