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Family Health

19 01 slideshow

BY Anhelina Bogush, BENEDICTE YM AARESTRUP YM January 19, 2023

Channeling chinchillas.

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    There are two chinchilla species: the long-tailed or Chilean Chinchilla lanigera and the short-tailed Chinchilla chinchilla. Both have suffered from excessive hunting and trapping, and both are currently listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered, as their numbers continue to decline despite current protection measures. C. lanigera is the type more likely to be kept as a pet.

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    Living in the harsh Andes Mountains of South America, 

    • chinchillas have had millions of years of evolution to grow their dense, 
    • soft, 
    • lush fur, 

    in response to the elements. The ancient Incan Empire hunted chinchillas for their meat and fur, and kept them as pets. Chinchilla fur became popular in the 1700s, and commercial hunting in northern Chile began in earnest in 1828. All chinchillas were hunted and trapped, but C. chinchilla was especially sought after, due to its higher-quality fur and larger size. Fur traders even used dynamite to destroy their burrow systems, which also annihilated many of the rodents.

    Photo by Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine
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    By the early 1900s, chinchillas were a whisker away from becoming extinct.

According to the Chinchilla Chronicles website

According to the Chinchilla Chronicles website (yes, there is such a thing), an American mining engineer named Mathias F. Chapman fell in love with the rotund little rodents and received special permission from the Chilean government to import nearly a dozen chinchillas into the US in the 1920s. He was careful in the transport, taking over a year to slowly acclimate the chinchillas to a lower altitude, and he brought along their natural food for the journey. It is thought that nearly every pet chinchilla in the US today is a direct descendant of the 11 chinchillas Chapman imported to the US.