Chinchilla: A History

standard grey chinchilla
08 May 2020 Pets4Company

What is the origin of chinchillas? From the wild ancestors to our housemates.

The chinchilla is an animal native to the Andes mountain ranges located in the coastal zone of South America, extending through several countries including Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. These are rugged mountains, of high altitude and low humidity, where low temperatures and poor and hostile land proliferate, covered by volcanic ash and sparse vegetation composed mostly of small shrubs and cacti.

Birds of prey, mountain lions and snakes also inhabit these territories, some of the main enemies and predators of chinchillas as well as other small animals.

In view of the scarce records regarding his “discovery”, we can only look with some suspicion at the little information that has come to us today.

In the middle of the 16th century, having Spanish ships docked somewhere in South America, travelers would have established contact with a tribe of Indians, "the Chinchas", whom, according to tradition, lived in close relationship with a small animal < strong> rodent , considered an integral part of the tribe and from which they would use the meat to eat and the skins to wear. Upon returning to Europe, between ropes and sails, the sailors would have brought with them some skins from those they would call Chinchila (or little Chincha), and which would arouse interest in the fur and clothing market in the old continent.

O destino das chinchilas ficaria assim para sempre ligado ao mercado das peles tendo inclusivamente levado à declaração da sua eminente extinção por volta de 1910.

The fate of the chinchillas would thus remain forever linked to the fur market and even led to the declaration of their imminent extinction around 1910.

Some governments will then have banned hunting of the species, leading to the appearance of farms where they were raised in large quantities for the same purpose.

In 1918, a mining engineer, F. Chapman, pressured the Chilean government, obtaining permission to catch and transport some of these rodents to America. Three years after the start of the expedition, Chapman manages to capture 11 chinchillas , of which only 3 were females, and thus begins his own colony.

The trip back to Los Angeles would take about a year, to avoid the shock of the temperature difference and transport. He had built cages for this purpose and would bring with him some native vegetation so that the chinchillas could feed themselves and so that the approximate nutritional value of this food for later maintenance would be recreated.

Arriving in the United States, on board a steamboat, Chapman's chinchillas would constitute the first wave in the formation of colonies for the fur industry.

Nowadays, the only chinchillas that we know in the wild are in the region of Chile, being on the list of protected species due to their reduced numbers and degradation of the conditions of their territory.