of the Nuñoa Project

About Nuñoa

Melgar Province, Peru

Nuñoa (pronounced Nunyoa) is about halfway between Cuzco and Lake Titicaca on the high slopes of the eastern Andes above 13,000 feet in elevation.

The Nuñoa River that flows through town comes, in part, from the Quilccaya Glacier, the largest in the tropics. The town has about 7000 residents who speak Quechua and Spanish, the district (comparable to a county) has a population of about 14,000. About a third of the households in the district are impoverished and hence have difficulties meeting their basic needs.

Grazing land in the Nuñoa District is some of the best on the Altiplano and the alpaca density the highest. As such the town prides itself as the suri capital of the world. Most small herders have alpacas (yes, huacayas too), llamas, sheep, some cattle, and several horses.

While principally herders, most households raise potatoes, other tubers, and Andean cereals (quinoa and canihua).

History of the Nuñoa Project

by R. Brooke Thomas

This is a community where I and others have carried out anthropological research for over 50 years. In the course of our work we have befriended many, become god-parents to quite a few, and have helped in a number of ways winning the trust of the community.

The opportunity to further reciprocate for the cooperation and generosity shown over the years came several years ago when Dr Steve Purdy first arrived at UMass to set up the Camelid Studies Program. Being interested in understanding the background of the alpacas and how they were herded by Andean natives it was easy to convince him that Nunoa was the place he had to see.

On our first trip Steve brought several animal science students, an alpaca breeder, and a fellow alpaca veterinarian, Cheryl DeWitt. We stayed in a small orphanage that supported joyous and inquisitive children, and toured the countryside talking with herders and inspecting their alpacas.

So impressed were we all with the need of small herders for veterinary service, and with the potential of linking this effort to the understaffed and underfunded orphanage, that we started planning how we might help fulfill a number of community needs. Thanks to Dr. Purdy's enthusiasm and a sense of obligation to give back to Andean herders - whose ancestors gave us the alpacas and llamas - a number of friends and colleagues were contacted, and they have provided their time and talents in getting our organization going.

Although we started and continue our work in Nuñoa we are also working in Pucara and Lampas districts with CONOPA and Chijnaya Foundation.