Chilean observatories are constantly making headlines and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Northern Chile is no exception. However, the latest news to emerge from this world-leading research center was a far cry from the usual tales of deep space discovery and grand unveilings of the secrets of the universe.
Last month, ALMA observatory workers found something admittedly less distant or impressive, but certainly a lot cuter: A baby Vicuña separated from its herd and in desperate need of help.
Only a few weeks old, the fawn was weak and unable to keep up with the herd when it fled from chasing foxes, but thankfully the ALMA staff spotted it on an interior road linking the camp to the famous Chajnantor Plateau — the site of the observatory’s vast antenna field.
“The animal was weak, without its mother, and we tried twice to reintroduce it to the herd but we weren’t successful,” said René Durán, an ALMA security team member and one of the workers who found the vicuña.
The team decided to take the fawn back to camp, where they notified the Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG). The baby vicuña was later transferred to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at the Universidad de Antofagasta where it is currently being treated. The fawn will eventually be released back to the high Andean plane known as the “Altiplano.”
A camelid species, the vicuña is a diminutive relative of the llama and endemic to the same high altitude mountain terrain as its stockier cousin.
Prior to being declared endangered in the 1970s, there were only around 6,000 vicuñas left in the wild. Since then, conservation efforts have seen numbers grow to more than 350,000 but experts say its important to remain vigilant and keep the population healthy.
Vicuñas can now be spotted throughout Northern Chile and thrive in numerous dedicated national parks.