THE SORRY TALE OF THE LONG-TAILED CHINCHILLA
When you go into a store to buy a Chinchilla for a pet, consider the fact that this small member of the rodent family is critically endangered in the wild. There’s a big difference between breeding a creature as a pet and having that creature in its own environment. So this week let’s talk about the Chinchilla – not the pet, the one in the Andean Mountains of South America.
Photo credit: Stefan Koder
The word Chinchilla means Little Chincha from the Chincha Indians of the Andes, who first hunted them for food and clothing. It is a member of the Cavidae family of rodents. The rodents of the Cavidae family are characterized by stout bodies, rounded heads, and short legs. Other interesting members of this family of rodents include: the Guinea Pig, the Capybara, the Agoutis, the Mara and the Porcupine.
The Agoutis: Photo credit: Erik Gauger (http://notesfromtheroad.com)
The Mara (Patagonian Cavy)
The Chinchilla is a crepuscular creature, which means that it is nocturnal, but extremely active during dawn and dusk when they hunt for their meal. They are omnivores and will eat grass, and seeds, but also enjoy a meal of insects, and even an occasional bird egg. They hold their food in their paws, sit back on their haunches, and nibble.
Here’s a quick video showing you a Chinchilla eating:
Chinchillas are typically 9 to 15 inches long from head to base of tail. But the tail can add another 3 to 6 inches to their length. They generally weigh 1.1 to 1.8 pounds.
Photo credit: T. Kitchin & V. Hurst
Chinchillas live in burrows and rock crevices. During the heat of the day, they stay in their homes to keep cool. If chased, they will quickly dart into their home, but they have been known to stick their heads out to see what it was that chased them. They are a very curious bunch!
Photo credit: Marcelo Belto
Their range was once expansive, but they are now confined to the Andean mountains in Chile and parts of Peru, at altitudes of up to 14,000 feet. They are social animals, living in large groups called ‘herds.’
Photo credit: Wikipedia
People have hunted the Chinchilla extensively for their fur. As many as 500,000 a year were killed and exported in 1900 (Arkive.org). According to Arkive, there are approximately 10,000 left in the wild. Recently, habitat reduction has added to the decline of the population. The Chinchilla is legally protected, but the laws are difficult to enforce due to the remote locations in which the animal lives.
For more information about the Chinchilla in the wild, visit the sites listed in ‘Citations and Resources’ below.
My sincere thanks, as always, to http://arkive.org.
Thank you for visiting!
Jeanne E. Rogers, Author
The Sword of Demelza
Award Winning Middle Grade Fantasy, Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!
Citations and Resources: