Inca Andean Wildlife
Peru has four camelid animals: two domesticated (llama and alpaca) and two wild (guanaco and vicuña). You will see many llama, which are widely used as beasts of burden. The rare vicuña is highly prized for its exquisite soft wool, the finest in the world. With a yield of only 250 grams per shearing, and only four or five shearings per lifetime, the animal is both endangered and protected. Vicuña wool was used exclusively for making the finest clothes for the Inca himself.
While Inca Trail hiking, especially near dawn or dusk, look out for viscacha, which resembles both rabbit and squirrel. The animal on the left was photographed by an observant hiker near the Warmiwañusqa pass.
A new rodent was discovered by an American researcher in 2000 while climbing in the mountains near Machu Picchu. She called this pale grey tree rat – as large as a domestic cat – Cuscomys ashaninka. Remains of similar rats had been found in tombs at Machu Picchu, but the tomb rats were previously thought to be extinct.
You are unlikely to see the rare, shy spectacled bear, sadly threatened with extinction. Each animal is largely black with a unique set of face markings in cream. Machu Picchu Sanctuary is one of only two conservation areas for the habitat of this endearing animal. They prefer to live in cloud forest at altitudes between 1900 and 2400 metres.
Bird life is extremely varied: over 370 species live within the Sanctuary. The largest is the condor, which feeds on carrion and weighs around 10 kg. Its body is black except for a white neck ruff. However, you are more likely to see condor at the Colca Canyon, near Arequipa, than on the Inca Trail.
You will glimpse many kinds of hummingbird as they flash across the trail, especially during the approach to Machu Picchu where flowers proliferate. They scull their wings in a figure-of-eight at up to 80 beats per second while hovering to sip nectar or catch insects. For a close view, or a good photograph, you need patience and skill.
Other birds you may see include the mountain caracara, a scavenging kind of falcon; it occupies the niche filled by crows in temperate latitudes. On the higher ground you might see American falcon and buzzard eagle. Lower down, look out for the green streak of a passing parrot.
Peru’s national bird is the Cock-of-the-rock. Males have dazzling bright orange heads and chests, and they gather twice daily in leks (groups) to make mating displays to the shy females. Its habitat is cloud forest up to 2400 metres. It may be seen in the ruins at Machu Picchu, mainly in the afternoons, and also along the Urubamba west of Aguas Calientes.
The antecedents of Culture of the Inca Empire is full of mysteries to solve, is to admire the constructive work of the Incas.