RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1844. [Extracts from letters on guanacos]. In Walton, William. The alpaca: Its naturalization in the British Isles considered as a national benefit, and as an object of immediate utility. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and sons, pp. 43-4, 50-51.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 9.2006, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 12.2006. RN4
* As regards the flesh of the larger of the two wild species, I have it in my power to offer the following testimony from Mr Darwin, the talented naturalist who accompanied the late surveying expedition in the Beagle, round Cape Horn:—"I have much pleasure in answering, as far as lies in my power, your enquiries regarding the guanaco. The first I killed was at Port Desire, on the coast of Patagonia; it weighed, without blood, entrails, or lungs, 170 lbs. Another, shot a few days afterwards, was estimated at a greater weight. These, and during
the succeeding year many others, were served out on board H. M. ship Beagle as fresh meat, and were generally liked. The meat, as far as I can remember, was fine-grained, not very dark, (perhaps of about the same colour as mutton,) rather dry, but not with the least bad taste or smell. I do not, however, think it would be considered of a very fine flavour; but, on the other hand, it must be remembered that the meat was tried in no other way (as I believe) except being baked in a ten gun brig's stove, and that it was eaten very fresh. Moreover, these animals, shot in this wild state on the desert plains, were not fat. I cannot doubt that the guanaco, if domesticated and fattened, would yield a meat which, when well cooked, would be decidedly good, although possibly not equal to beef and mutton."1
This peculiar facility of accommodating themselves to different climates and situations, so remarkable in the tame varieties, we also know distinguishes the guanaco, which, as I have already had occasion to observe, has in the course of time spread to the southern limits. In a communication addressed to me by Mr Darwin, whose authority has previously been quoted, are the following remarks upon this subject:—
"Perhaps there is no animal in the world which, in its wild state, flourishes under stations of such different, and indeed directly opposite characters, as the guanaco. I saw them on the hot deserts near Northern Chile, where the climate is excessively dry; on the borders of perpetual snow, at the height of 12,000 feet; and on the rocky and bare mountains of the
same country. They swarm in great herds on the most sterile plains of gravel, composing Patagonia. Formerly they were numerous on the grassy savannahs stretching on the banks of La Plata, where during half the year the summer is hot, and in the winter abundant rain falls; and lastly, the guanaco lives on the peat-covered mountains, and in the thick entangled forests of Tierra del Fuego, of which country the climate is far more humid and boisterous, and the summer less warm, than in any part of Great Britain. I could perceive no difference in the guanacos of these several regions. If the alpaca be the same species, or has the same constitution, as the guanaco, these facts regarding the range of the latter are interesting, as they show under what various conditions we might expect the alpaca to thrive. I will only add, that the guanaco so easily becomes tame, that young ones, caught and brought up at farm-houses, seldom leave them, although ranging at full liberty near their native plains."
1 William Walton (1784-1857), writer on Spain and British agent in San Domingo, 1802-1829. Correspondence vol. 2, pp. 246-7.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
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