Fish and seabirds’ drawings based on designs from Chimú pottery

Sea life

The rich fish stocks (anchovieta) which thrive in the cold Humboldt current encourage millions of seabirds. El Niño (“The Christ Child”, as it normally arrives around Christmas), is a warm ocean current which disrupts this cycle bringing dramatic weather changes, strong winds and rain to Peru’s coast and mountains, as well as killing many of the Pacific fish and seabirds that thrive in the Humboldt Current. Recently identified as linked to global climate change, El Niño has been a feature of life in Peru for centuries.

Animals in the Nazca Lines

Dr Paul Kosok of Long Island University, New York, made them well known in 1939 after flying over the Nazca zone and seeing immense drawings of animals and anthropomorphic figures. These mysterious signs are also associated with the name of Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who studied them closely for more than 40 years. According to her theory, they form a gigantic agricultural and religious calendar.

The principal figures are of the Nazca culture (BC200 – AD500) and are located on the pampas of San José. The best known are the spider, the monkey and the hummingbird, but the largest are the lizard (180m), the guanay (280m) and the pelican (285m).

South American camel family:

Llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas are collectively known as New World or South American camelids. They are all members of the camelid family and are related to Bactrian and dromedary camels.


Llamas are traditionally pack animals. The llama is the largest of the South American camelids, weighing anything up to 400lb (180kg) and standing approximately 4ft (1.25m) at the shoulder. Llamas are strong, intelligent, hardy animals with a gentle temperament and inquisitive nature. These elegant animals, with their distinctive banana-shaped ears, are found in a variety of colours from solid white to black and with varying shades and mixes of brown and grey. The llama has a double coat, an outer coat of coarse guard hair and an undercoat of soft fine down, much sought after by hand spinners. The fibre is used for making many kinds of garments and guard hairs can be used for making wall hangings and rugs.


Smaller than the llama, alpacas stand about 3ft (0.92m) at the shoulder and weigh, on average, 150lb (68kg). They produce a superb, heavy fleece of fine, strong fibre which will grow down to the ground if not clipped. Their fleece also grows thickly on their legs and faces, giving them an extremely attractive appearance. Like llamas, alpacas are found in a variety of colours, from solid white to black and with varying shades and mixes of brown and grey. Alpacas’ luxurious fibre makes wonderfully soft and warm garments and is particularly appreciated by hand-knitters. An annual shearing will produce between 1-6lb (0.8kg-2.8 kg) of very fine fibre.


Guanacos are elegant, fine-boned, and stand approximately 3ft 6in in height (1.06m) at the shoulder and weigh around 200lb (91kg). Like the llama, the guanaco is double coated with a coarse guard hair and soft undercoat, which is even more highly prized than that of the alpaca, although they carry far less of it. The colour varies very little, ranging from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. Guanacos have grey faces and small straight ears.


Vicuñas are the smallest of the camelid family standing at just 2ft 8in – 3ft 7in (0.8-1.1m) at the shoulder. They typically weigh in the region of 99lb-121lb (45-55kg). They are extremely refined and delicate to look at, being a cinnamon colour with an apron of long white hair on their chest. The vicuña – a very timid animal – lives on the high, lonely parts of the mountain ranges, and offers the finest and most exquisite fibre in the world, very much in demand in international markets. Until the early 90s this animal was on the endangered list, but in 1990 herds amounting to a total of 65,000 were counted, thanks to conservation projects aimed at sustainable exploitation of these animals with the direct and constant participation of native communities. The vicuña features as part of Peru’s national Coat of Arms.

 The condor

Sacred bird of the Incas, the Vultur gryphus can live for 50 years, stands around 4ft (1.30m) tall and has a wing expansion of more than three metres, which permits it to fly, almost without moving its wings, from its nest in the heights of the Andes (5,000m above sea level) down to the beaches where it feeds on dead sea lions. An ancestral carrion bird, it has no song and the male only emits squawks with his tongue when courting the female. They are monogamous, have black plumage with white splashes at the extremities, and a white collar. The head and neck have no feathers. The male has a great crest and numerous skin folds which give him a majestic aspect, although not a very friendly one. Hunting the condor is forbidden but in certain traditional Andean festivals he is tied to the back of a bull, representing the conflict between conquered and conqueror.

The hummingbird

These birds are native to the Americas and are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring between 3-5 inches. They are known as hummingbirds because of the humming sound created by their beating wings which flap at high frequencies audible to humans. They hover in mid-air at rapid wing-flapping rates, typically around 50 times per second, allowing them also to fly at speeds exceeding 34 mph. They can also fly backwards, and are the only group of birds able to do so. The hummingbird needs to eat twice its bodyweight in food every day, and to do so they must visit hundreds of flowers daily. Hummingbirds regularly visit our gardens in the Project Peru refuge.

The bear

The spectacled bear is the only bear native to South America and is technically the largest land carnivore in that part of the world, although as little as 5% of its diet is composed of meat. The spectacled bear is a mid-sized species of bear. Overall, its fur is blackish in colour, though bears may vary from jet black to dark brown and to even a reddish hue. The species typically has distinctive beige or ginger-coloured markings across its face and upper chest, though not all spectacled bears have spectacle markings.

The guinea pig

Guinea pigs originated in the Andes but do not now exist in the wild. The domestic guinea pig still plays an important role, in the Andean regions especially, as a source of food. In Western societies the domestic guinea pig has also enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet since its introduction by European traders in the 16th century. Biological experimentation on guinea pigs has been carried out since the 17th century, resulting in the epithet “guinea pig” for a test subject, though mice and rats are more usually used now. A “guinea pig” is also now used colloquially to describe a person who is among the first to try out something new for someone else, eg a new recipe, or a new way of doing something.

The monkey

There are about 32 known species of New World monkeys in Peru, particularly in the Peruvian Amazon region, though the monkey features among the Nazca lines near the desert coast. Among the species of monkey are the marmoset, woolly monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tamarin monkeys, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, titi monkeys, spider monkeys and night monkeys