Review of the July 2017 Nunoa Project Camelid Veterinary Work in Peru

By: Stephen R. Purdy, DVM, President of Nuñoa Project
Photo: Courtesy of Nuñoa Project

Photo Caption: Nunoa Project veterinary team volunteers with a Suri breeding male in the Andes:  Brittany Lister from Georgia, Anjen Shah from Massachusetts, and Aydee Chara from Peru.

Our llama work included visits to work with 10 llama farmers in Huacahuasi about 3 hours’ drive into the mountains from Urubamba near Cusco.  We spent 3 days there including one very cold overnight in tents.  The scenery there is beautiful and the community is along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu so on occasion we saw groups of tourists with pack horse and mules carrying their gear. 

We are working with Llama Pack Project (www.llamapackproject.com) from Urubamba to make initial veterinary contacts with llama farmers along the Inca Trail.  The overall goal of the project is to assist the farm families there to increase their family income by using their llamas for packing. In addition they can get paid for providing meals to travelers and also sell their beautiful hand woven items. 

Packing was the traditional use for llamas in the Andes but they were replaced over time by packing companies using equines.  Horses, donkeys and mules are very destructive to the trails used by the local people for travel and also contaminate the land and water with feces and urine as they work.  Llamas on the other hand defecate and urinate in discrete locations along the trail when used.

The herd evaluations we performed included looking at animal stature and body condition for suitability for packing and overall nutritional status. In addition we performed ultrasound pregnancy exams on female llamas and alpacas in the herds to assess fertility of both breeding males and females and the efficacy of the breeding management plans of individual farmers. We also evaluated breeding males for farmers. 

In some cases the body condition of the herds was low due to insufficient access to pasture and water.  We made recommendations based on our findings and in one case suggested to the farmer that her llamas were too small for packing and that she would have to acquire additional larger females and a breeding male if she wished to pack with them.  A simpler and quicker option would be to trade some of her alpacas for bigger llamas now. 

Overall the fertility of the llama herds we saw was good (70 to 80% pregnancy rate) and we are helping Llama Pack Project to get more families to join the packing project with 5 new families added during our visit.  The farmers overall were very interested in getting their llamas into productive work.  Some farmers were a bit shy about working with us but this is common in the Andes and these were all new herds. We expect to return to this and other communities on future trips.

Our alpaca work occurred in two primary locations:  Pucara/Lampa where we have been working for 3 years, and a new location further north and east called Picotani working with a US nonprofit called Quechua Benefit (www.quechuabenefit.org) which has many human oriented projects in Peru. 

The eight Pucara and Lampa herds we saw varied in animal quality and nutritional and reproductive status as in past years. Most were very good but some could use better nutrition.  This is difficult at this time of year because it is cold and dry with poor pasture until rainy season starts in November. At one location in Pucara Mario Idme and his wife Bonita Gomez had the highest pregnancy rate we have ever seen in Peru (or the US for that matter) in their small herd at 96%. The farmers continue to improve their herds and they are increasingly aware of changes they can make to improve production.

We plan to travel with several farmers in December to assist them to select and purchase top quality males to improve their herds at their request.  Three farmers are particularly interested in improvements and seem to be natural leaders to help others in the area. It is our goal also to work with these people to take over their own improvements after training them. 


Pucara and Lampa Summary:
1. Slow but steady progress continues with the farmers with whom we have worked.  Body condition scores of animals were low in some locations and we suggested that animals get more access to pasture and water. 
2. Pregnancy rates are what we normally see for most farmers in the altiplano at 70 to 80%.  One farmer achieved a 96% rate with an uncomplicated breeding management program.  He should teach this program to other farmers in the area. 
3. Two farmers are interested in having us help them to select new breeding males in December 2017 during our next work trip.  This can be coordinated through the Chijnaya Foundation’s local Association Pro Dia so that it can be offered as a training day for several farmers in the area.  We continue to emphasize selection of top quality males for breeding with emphasis on testicle size, animal stature which allows breeding all sizes of females, and evaluation of body condition score to evaluate nutritional status of herds. 
4. It appears that enterotoxemia was not a major concern in the area this past birthing season. 
5. Further training on reproduction record keeping to identify fertility of females and males would be useful for farmers who wish to employ it. 
6. Cria mortality rates are normal for the altiplano usually at approximately 10%. 
7. Training on breeding behavior of breeding males and females might be of use to some farmers. 
8. Most farmers are very enthusiastic about continuing to work with us to improve their herds.


The alpaca work in Picotani was our first visit to the area at the request of Quechua Benefit. Over three days we visited three different parts of the community: Toma, Cambria, and Picotani proper.  We worked with 7 alpaca herds total in the area.

No one has had any veterinary assistance for at least 8 years.  Common problems included lack of sufficient water and pasture resulting in poor body condition and low pregnancy rate in one herd.  The last herd we visited was doing very well with top quality fiber animals in good condition.  The herd of vicuna that Picotani has stewardship over numbers approximately 10,000 animals. You can see their small groups as you drive along the road to visit the farmers’ herds.

We have colleagues who are vicuna experts (Drs. Jane Wheeler of Lima and Gisela Marcoppido of Buenos Aires) who can possibly address the needs of the farmers and their herds if requested in the future.  The people in Picotani are very anxious to have help with herd improvement and there is quite a lot we can do for them.  We could have worked with other farmers had our time schedule not been limited but we certainly are interested in going back there in the future.  As in other areas of the altiplano the basis for our work is animal evaluation, problem solving, and education.  We also learn from the Peruvian farmers on every visit.

Picotani Summary:
1. Low body condition scores were common in multiple herds.  This is indicative of a nutritional (pasture and/or water) or genetic problem.  Farmers with limited pasture and water could eliminate BCS 1 animals to allow more food for the rest
2. The area has a water problem which needs to be addressed.  Options to consider would be drilling wells and/or using some type of water reservoirs to collect rain water.
3. Farmers want their herds evaluated- we had to turn down several due to time and distance. 
4. Training is needed in these areas: (1) BCS evaluation, (2) Breeding management, including evaluation of breeding males.  Some farmers were picking small males to use later this year and none seemed familiar with checking testes for presence of two testes, the normal teste size, and expected consistency on palpation.  (3)Adult and cria health and alpaca diseases- all farmers could get a Nunoa Project disease picture book for reference.
5. Enterotoxemia vaccination could reduce or eliminate cria mortality on farms where there is a problem.  The farmers need a training program for this and consistent guidance from outside experts to get it started and keep it going correctly.  Quechua Benefit is interested in getting this program started.
6. Nunoa Project personnel are experienced working in the altiplano and can continue to evaluate herds, identify problems of individual breeders, and work to solve those problems
7. Nunoa Project can also provide the needed training with seminars, hands on demonstrations, and written materials (CONOPA booklets).  Dr. Diaz has presented many seminars in Pucara and Picotani and Dr. Purdy is primarily a veterinary teacher emphasizing practical subjects.  The training and animal evaluations should eventually be turned over to local community technicians.

As I reviewed our work from July I am very enthusiastic about the positive changes we have made, the new farmers we have met, and what we can do in the future. I am always saddened when our Nunoa Project volunteers go their separate ways but I also feel that I have made another set of lifelong friends who have experienced the challenges and rewards of working in the Peruvian altiplano.

Many thanks to: veterinary students Britany Sanders from Purdue, Brittany Lister from Georgia, Stephanie Skinner from Kansas State, and Aydee Chara from Lima; Massachusetts prevet students Laura Pepin, Anjen Shah, and Vanessa Sylvia; and of course my Peruvian veterinary colleague Gerardo Diaz whose input is critical to the success of our work.  Anyone who has worked in the area is affected strongly by the absolute beauty of the mountains, the friendliness of the people there, and the prospects for future improvements.  I am also very appreciative for what I have living in the US and gain new perspective on my life and that of others who are much less fortunate on each trip.  It is my pleasure to be able to work with our volunteers and the Peruvian people.

During the fall academic semester here in Massachusetts Nunoa Project’s North American Camelid Studies Program I meet and work with the returning and new undergraduate students in our Alpaca and Donkey Reproduction and Camelid Management courses.  I have completed veterinary school recommendation letters for 7 excellent students who have been trained by us.  Approximately half of our Peruvian work volunteers have taken courses as undergraduates or veterinary students.  The future is bright for large animal veterinary medicine and international agriculture based on these excellent young people. 

Learn more about Nunoa Project here.