Chinchillas are native to the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, most are actually found in areas so cold they are above the snow line. This is why they developed such lush, thick fur.
In the wild, chinchillas live in crevices, between rocks and in caves. They are very social animals and live in colonies of up to 100 chinchillas. This gives them added protection from natural predators as well as helping to have a community to raise their young and keep the population diverse enough to continue on its own.
Chinchillas are amazing climbers/jumpers. Their powerful legs allow them to jump from rock to rock, while their stiff, firm tail helps them to keep their balance. In the wild, chinchillas are not the colors you will see in captivity. They are a light grey color, which helps them to blend in to their natural habitat in order for them to be more easily concealed.
Their dense coats not only keep them warm from the harsh cold temperatures, but also is so thick that it helps them to avoid getting common parasites, such as fleas. Their fur also serves another purpose - chinchillas can "slip" their fur when scared and in need of escape. This fur gets released into the eyes and mouths of predators to give chinchillas time to escape their enemies.
Because chinchillas are from very dry arid habitats, they do not drink much water. In the wild, their water consumption is done mostly by drinking morning dew that has condensed on rocks. They also keep their coats clean by rolling in sand and dust (much like they do in captivity).
Due to their nocturnal nature, their eyesight is not wonderful. They rely mostly on their long whiskers and their own innate sense of their surroundings to get around.
Chinchillas are now listed as endangered and protected from hunting by law; however, their habitat continues to be destroyed. Grazing animals, collection of wood and mining harm this endangered animals last known habitat.
In captivity, chinchillas did not start out as pets. They were originally brought into captivity and domesticated to breed for the fur industry because of their lush pelts. The result of this is that there are very few chinchillas left in the wild today. The Chilean government, seeing the chinchilla on its way to becoming extinct began passing laws to outlaw the killing of these beautiful rodents.
Their beginnings in the United States is credited to a man named Mathias F. Chapman, who obtained the original export permits of chinchillas from the Chilean government in 1923. Together with a party of 23 men, Chapman managed to capture 11 wild chinchillas that were suitable for breeding, over a period of 11 years, only three of these were females.
There have been a lot of changes in chinchilla care and husbandry in the past almost decade that they have been in captivity, most of it through trial and error. Please read our Chin Care pages for more information on today's chinchilla care.
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