In The Wild


Chinchillas in the Wild

Chinchillas are caviomorph rodents which once roamed the mountains and foothills of South America. Chinchilla brevicaudata, short tailed chinchilla was hunted severely and is endangered. Its native range included the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The long tailed species, C. lanigera, has been listed as endangered and was thought to be extirpated from its original range which included the foothills of the Andes in Chile from northwest of Potrerilloas south to Region IV (Jimenez 1996). Chinchilla are endangered because of hunting and trapping of the animals for its pelts. Between 1895 and 1921 over three million chinchilla pelts including a small number of live animals were exported from Chile. Some authors report that more then 21 million chinchillas were actually killed between 1840 and 1916 and only a fraction of those caught were able to be exported (1996). Upon rediscovery of wild C. lanigera in central Chile during the mid-1970's a series of studies on these endangered rodent populations have tried to understand chinchillas, their habitat and populations which continue to decline.

About half of the wild population is located within a fenced reserve. About 5,000 individuals are located on private unprotected land.

The chinchilla population declined steadily because of hunting and trapping. At the end of the nineteenth century, the once abundant animals had become endangered. Normally, if a mated pair has two offspring which survive in their first litter, replacement of the original pair has occurred. Any additional offspring are seen as recruitment or population growth, which eventually stabilizes the species.However, humans were hunting and trapping the animal for its fur faster than the animal could repopulate themselves resulting in scarcity of the species. According to Meadow (1969), "the disappearance of the once beautiful chinchilla alarmed the South American governments of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. By 1918 all of them had placed an embargo on exportation of chinchilla furs, and had laws against trapping the animal."

Today hunting is forbidden and the animals are protected by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Animals (CITES). Although these animals are protected, their habitat continues to be destroyed. Grazing animals, collection of wood and mining harm this endangered animals last known habitat.

From Amy Deane, Wild Chinchillas


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