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This article examines national efforts to protect wildlife in the twentieth century. Its focus is the vicuña, a small llama-like species native to the Andes, which nearly went extinct due to the high economic value of its wool. Instead, the Peruvian national government—despite significant regime shifts—intervened to put in place and then perpetuate a series of conservation measures, including trade restrictions and a territorial reserve, that protected the population and allowed it to rebound. Using a combination of cultural, economic, political, and biological methods to understand the animals and people concerned about them, this article argues that conservation reoriented relationships among people and wild animals. Cultural affinities led to ethical claims about the animal’s value as well as utilitarian arguments about its potential economic worth for community and economic development. Moreover, the vicuña themselves shaped both the landscapes and the conservation programs with their biological habits. Saving the vicuña proved to be a complex social process that challenged facile assumptions about past environmental actions of politically volatile, economically marginalized, and socially divided nations.

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This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in The American Historical Review following peer review. The version of record

Wakild, E. (2020). Saving the Vicuña: The Political, Biophysical, and Cultural History of Wild Animal Conservation in Peru, 1964-2000. The American Historical Review, 125(1), 54-88.

is available online at The content of this document may vary from the final published version.