2024 International Year Of Camelids

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Highlighting the crucial role of camelids in the lives of people worldwide, the United Nations has declared 2024 as the International Year of Camelids.  Camelids refers to any of the even-toed ungulates of the family Camelidae. (suborder Tylopoda)  The Bactrian camel, the Dromedary camel, llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas; each species playing a unique role in sustaining communities and ecosystems.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, camelids impact the lives of millions of families around the world.  Camelids play a key role in the culture, economy, food security and livelihoods of communities in the Andean highlands and in the arid and semi-arid lands in Africa, Asia and Australia.  They are a main source of protein, milk, fibre for clothes,  fertilizer for agricultural production, and they serve as pack animals, transporting people and products.

The aim of an International Year is to inform public opinion and governments on the importance of recognizing and valuing the economic and social importance of camelids in communities that are vulnerable to the insecurities of the changing climate, food insecurity, loss of grazelands; and to enable these communities to make their voices heard.  The four species existing in South America are the llama, alpaca, vicuna, and guanaco.  They were the main livestock in pre-Hispanic times, and continue to be an important element in the cultural identity of ancestral indigenous communities. 

One of the many virtues of camelids is their gentle nature and eco-friendly ability to extract protein and energy from lesser quality forages.  As a species they are the least contaminant of all the ruminants in terms of greenhouse gasses produced.  Easy on the environment, the camelid is equipped with soft foot pads, leaving little impact on the environment. 

Camelid evolution began in North America 40 to 50 million years ago.  Asia and Alaska are now separated by the 90 km (56 mile) – wide Bering Strait.  During the height of one of the Pleistocene glaciation periods, the sea level was lowered sufficiently to expose a wide land bridge and many animal species moved back and forth across this bridge.  The camel line of Camelidae migrated from North America into Asia.  Once in Asia, Camelus radiated through eastern Europe (Rumania and Southern Russia), the Middle East, and North Africa as far west as the Atlantic and as far south as Tanzania. The first lamoids migrated to South America approximately 3 million years ago when an open land connection between North and South America developed.  Alpacas and llamas exist only as domestic species.  Guanacos and vicunas are wild species. It is generally accepted that the alpaca shares characteristics with the vicuna, and llamas originated from the guanaco.

The aim of the UN declaration is to facilitate interaction between communities and policy makers and to better identify and understand the challenges, as well as establishing camelid welfare standards into policy and practice worldwide.

Camels in Canada?  

More to come next week.