AP PHOTOS: Wooly vicunas sheared at Inca festival in Andes

PAMPAS GALERAS, PERU — Hundreds of people from the nearby village of Lucanas grasped a rope decorated with multi-colored streamers and marched across the broad Andean plain to round up vicunas, llama-like animals that are prized for their valuable wool.

Before the Wednesday roundup at the Pampas Galeras National Reserve, Peruvians in traditional costume performed a dance as part of the ancient ritual, known as the "chaccu."

Dozens of the animals were then gently captured, shorn of their long, tawny brown and white wool, then set free. The shearing festival was overseen by a man dressed as an Inca king.

For centuries, hunters killed the elusive vicuna for its wool and leather rather than shear the animals live. The species was on the brink of extinction by 1964, when Peru's government established the national reserve, now the principal sanctuary for the species. 

A member of the camelid family, the vicuna is Peru's national animal, featured on the Peruvian flag and considered important in many Andean communities.

The roundup is a nod to ancient Inca culture as well as efforts to preserve the once-endangered animals.