Chinchilla

RANGE
Otherwise known as long-tailed chinchilla. Before extensive hunting, they lived in Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Now they are found only in northern Chile in the high mountain region where it is cold and dry.

HABITAT
Shelters in burrows and crevices between boulders or at bases of spiny chaguales plants. Several pairs may share a den.

SIZE
About 10 inches long with a weight of 1 to 1¾ pounds.

REPRODUCTION

  • Mate in winter and give birth in spring.
  • Gestation period is 115 – 125 days depending on altitude; higher altitude increases the gestation.
  • Litter Size 1 – 6 per litter per year for wild long-tailed chinchillas.
  • Young are born fully furred. After a few hours the kits are able to move around but will remain between parents for warmth.
  • Young eat solid food at one week, but are not fully weaned until 7 – 8 weeks.
  • Sexually mature in less than a year

DIET
Wild: Coarse grass and herbs
Zoo: Alfalfa cubes, raisins and chinchilla chow

BEHAVIOR

  • Nocturnal
  • Live in groups and mate for life
  • Female is the larger and more dominant member. Courtship begins when the male or female pulls tufts of fur from the other’s body.
  • Nibbling is a way of social bonding. Mates often chew on each other’s ears, around the eyes and under their chins.
  • Food is held in forepaws and eaten while on haunches.
  • Do not drink water but depend on moisture obtained from plants and dew.
  • Releases its fur if caught by a predator.
  • A healthy animal will eat a few of its own droppings once in a while to keep a proper level of “good bacteria” in its digestive system. This behavior is called corprophagy.

STATUS
IUCN: Critically Endangered due to declining population from illegal hunting and habitat quality. Threatened in the wild with extinction, fewer than 10,000 survive. Wild populations are on the U.S. Endangered Species list and are protected by the Chilean government. CITES Appendix I since 1977.

POINTS OF INTEREST

  • Highly valued for it’s fur due to its characteristic extreme softness. This has been the primary factor for becoming endangered.
  • Soft blueish-gray fur is 1 – 1½ inches long. Up to 60 hairs growing from each hair follicle.
  • Long squirrel-like tail, ears are almost hairless, whiskers are long and eyes large.
  • Small feet have weak claws on four toes. Soles of feet are rubbery.
  • The Inca Indians used chinchilla fur for winter clothing. The rich used the pelts while the poor used the hairs as thread for clothing.
  • In the 1990’s the South American government put a tariff on the export of skins which led to smuggling. A few years later, because so few chinchillas were left, there was a ban placed on all hunting.
  • In the 1920’s government farms were started which prevented extinction. These farms were so successful that poaching was no longer profitable, although poaching still exists.
  • Another species of wild chinchilla is the short-tailed chinchilla. It lives at 10,000 – 15,000 feet and has never been as numerous as the long-tailed species perhaps because of the harsher conditions of its high-altitude home.
  • Two males or two females cannot be housed together.

REFERENCES

  1.  Zoological Society of London
  2.  http://www.iucn.org
  3.  http://www.cites.org