Although adopting a pet chinchilla could seem like a great idea at the time, you should know that these animals are extremely sensitive and need to be looked after properly. Therefore, a good chinchilla cage and the right food for chinchillas won’t suffice to make them happy and welcomed, especially since we are talking about an endangered species.
Make sure to read below to find everything you need to know about these beautiful creatures, as well as the risks of welcoming one into your home.
Chinchillas are large-sized rodents and are bigger than other relatives, including the ground squirrel. They are native to the Andes mountains located in South America. Historically, large colonies of chinchillas, also referred to as “herds”, were found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.
However, nowadays, wild colonies are almost extinct and can only be found at high altitudes in Chile. Because they are used to living in the mountains at altitudes of up to 14,000 feet, these animals developed extremely thick fur that helped them survive the harsh weather conditions and extremely low temperatures.
There aren’t too many things known about chinchillas before the Spaniards traveled to South America in the 16th century. During their travels, the Spanish people found a tribe of natives named “Chinchas”, who were known to have worn the fur of these animals. The Chincha tribe was also the one that introduced the Europeans to these creatures in the first place, and it is how the rodents got their name.
Upon their return to the old continent, the Spanish conquistadors took the animals with them and started a fur business that has thrived to our days. Unfortunately, the following years saw the massacre of thousands of these rodents for their fur, which almost led to their extinction.
By the end of the 19th century, Chinchillas have become rare after being hunted and killed for their thick, warm, and beautiful fur.
Although these creatures have been protected by the international laws since the 1920s, their population continued to decline, so that nowadays we can only count for around 10,000 of these rodents living in the wild. Unfortunately, they are still pursued by poachers in Latin America, and, as long as their fur remains in high demand in the fashion industry, they will be hunted.
Why are chinchillas endangered?
Chinchillas have the thickest fur of an animal on land, counting for around 60 hairs in one follicle. That leads to almost 20,000 hairs per square cm, 10 times more than an average adult person.
In fact, their fur is so thick that fleas and ticks cannot penetrate it and, even if they could, they would suffocate due to the lack of air. Thus, it comes as no surprise that humans have been hunting these animals for their fur for centuries.
Coats made of natural chinchilla fur are considered not only luxurious but also incredibly warm, and are in high demand in the cold regions of the world such as Russia and Kazakhstan.
However, chinchillas were not only hunted for their fur but also for their meat. It is considered a delicacy and is rich in monounsaturated fats. The meat is said to be tender but less nutritious than the ones of other rodents. Nowadays, there are only a few restaurants that serve chinchilla meat as their feed materials come from certified breeders.
Can you keep chinchillas as pets?
Chinchillas have become popular pets in the past few decades, but the domesticated species differ dramatically from their wild ancestors.
Chins can be very affectionate and loving once they get used to their owners but, even then, they will still require your full care and attention. They are quite pretentious and won’t adjust well to humid or hot environments.
Therefore, domesticated chinchillas should be kept in cool and dry rooms, with temperatures that don’t exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another aspect that you should know is that all these pets come from certified breeders and are the result of years of domestication. In other words, the ones that you purchase from a breeder or from a local pet shop have nothing in common with the wild colonies of chinchillas remaining in South America.
Nevertheless, you should never purchase a pet chin from an unauthorized person and you should always check with a vet first before buying one. Sometimes, pet stores don’t look after their needs, so the pets can easily get sick and die months after you bought them.
Whenever possible, we suggest adopting a chin instead of buying one from a breeder or a pet shop. There are thousands of people who buy them only to realize they cannot cater to their needs, abandoning them in shelters or even on the streets.
Many of these stray rodents have small chances of survival and should be immediately taken care of if found. And, even when they do survive, the chins have already endured abuses, so they’ll require more time to adjust to their new owners and start trusting people again.
What can you do to help?
Ever since 1929 when chinchillas were listed as an endangered species, there have been made efforts to preserve their population.
Local governments and authorities are nowadays focusing on facilitating these conservation efforts by providing more areas where the animals can build new colonies, far away from human civilization. These rodents are carefully monitored and helped to reintegrate into the wildness to ensure the survival of the species.
Save the Wild Chinchillas is probably the biggest non-profit organization that tries to fight against the chinchilla extinction by educating people about the dangers of excessive hunting and collecting funds that will further help research in the field.
You can help the organization by donating or enrolling as a volunteer to help create new habitats for these animals to live.