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.


Veterinary Support
in Peru

We are currently involved with improving management practices and alpaca production on local farms in the altiplano. This assistance includes improving disease prevention through vaccination, improving animal birthing rates through selection of top quality breeding males, and improving wool production and quality with evaluation of annual production rates.

North American Camelid Studies Program

Providing educational and research oportunities along with training for students, farmers and veterinarians through the North American Camelid Studies Program in the US and through the Nunoa Project work in Peru.

North American Donkey Studies Program

Providing educational and research opportunities for students, farmers and veterinarians through the North American Donkey Studies Program in the US.

Herd Improvement Project in Peru

1. Nuñoa Project male alpacas are in work breeding females belonging to farmers from January through March of each year.

2. All animals and their offspring are tagged for identification and to track production.

3. Annual studies are conducted by European, Argentinian, Peruvian and US veterinarians and students.

4. We are encouraging farmers to use a record keeping system to monitor male and female production in order to make breeding management decisions.

5. In January and June of each year we conduct Ultrasound pregnancy examinations on all project females to evaluate success of NP males and offer suggestions for improvement of birthing rates for farmers.

We also discuss production and animal health problems with farmers to help them towards practical solutions.

Humanistic Support

Having worked as anthropological researchers in the Nuñoa area for five decades on problems of human health and agriculture we have a familiarity with the challenges people face in their daily lives as well as their proud traditions and knowledge systems. Our humanistic goals are to facilitate projects that people in town and rural communities identify as important but have limited resources to accomplish. Furthermore, we are prepared to address urgent needs as they arise in this harsh and unpredictable land where both the environment and economy frequently produce unexpected hardship.

Past studies have indicated that approximately a third of the population is living marginally, and single women headed households and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. Our recent work has sponsored wheelchair donations to handicapped adults and children, blanket distribution to a high and remote rural community exposed to the exceptionally cold weather of recent years, and the support of a yarn spinning micro-industry started by local women. This last project links our overall mission of “Helping People and Camelids of the Peruvian Altiplano.”

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