Chinchilla Origin and History
Chinchillas are known for their impeccable cuteness and luxuriously soft fur. Their species are classified in two namely Chinchilla Chinchilla or the short-tailed ones, and Chinchilla Lanigera or the chinchillas with long tails.
These adorable creatures have a resemblance with rabbits although they are thought to be smarter than the latter as they can interact and play with humans when taught. Like all other things, we always wonder when or where a certain lifeform or phenomenon came about, and chinchillas are no exception.
In this article, we will be learning the origins of these animals and how they become one of the most loved pets today.
Where do chinchillas originate from?
Forty-one million years ago, chinchillas first swarmed the land of South America and coastal regions particularly in Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia.
The Chincha people of the Andes, who first got mesmerized by the beauty and velvet-like fur, named the rodents after their own and later called them “chinchillas”.
The popularity of chinchillas boomed in 1700s and since then they were commercially bred to produce ultra-soft furs that will be used for making clothes and coats sold in different parts of America.
Due to high demands, the downturn of these creatures began as early as 1914 when one scientist claimed that chinchillas were nearing extinction because of over-exploitation.
However, Mathias Chapman, an American engineer, was given a special permission by the government of Chile to bring chinchillas to the United States up until 1923.
Restriction of sale of fur
The decimation of chinchillas’ population by exorbitant fur trade and harvest caused the species’ precise natural range to be ill-studied and under developed.
Fifty-two years later in 1975, the restriction of sale and trade of wild chinchillas was mandated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The specie of Chinchilla Chinchilla or the short-tailed ones are said to be extinct in Peru and Bolivia but are thought to be recovering in other areas.
In the most recent year as 1996, the population of Chinchilla Lanigera or the long-tailed is declining and continuing to do so as only 42 colonies are left to be thriving.
Chinchilla natural habitat
Chinchillas can only survive in cold places that have the temperature between 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5°C) to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27°C).
Humidity and/or high temperatures can be fatal to these rodents for they can be at risk with heat stroke and dehydration. With that being said, they are currently flourishing in Chile and can only be found in that country.
An estimated of just 10,000 chinchillas are left in the Chilean mountains due to habitat loss caused by burning and harvesting of the algarobilla shrub at lower altitudes.
Despite the lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity, it is said that both species of chinchillas were classified by International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” in the year 2008.
However, this was regressed back to the classification of “endangered” because of untiring efforts to save and recover the last numbers of chinchillas that outlived over-exploitation and the ongoing global warming we all suffer from.
Researchers in Argentina even failed to find a single specimen of chinchillas even though the country was one of the rodents’ native habitats.
History has never been kind to the species of chinchillas. According to the records, these poor and defenseless creatures have always been in demand causing excessive and cruel hunting.
Today, there is a number of conservation projects to save the wild healthy chinchillas and these include Wild Chinchilla Conservation Society which aims not only to protect the endangered species but also to reduced the threatening activities to its natural habitat such as illegal logging, grazing animals, and mining. If not taken action as soon as possible, eventually, chinchillas will be gone in no time.
Our responsibility as animal lovers
Conservation should not only be limited to endangered species. It is our due responsibility to take care of all kinds of life forms because just like us, they deserve a place on earth wherein they are loved and unharmed.
The next generation after we leave also deserves to see the beauty and richness our world can offer. I hope we all learn our lesson before it’s too late, before everything that we’ve worked hard for to protect is just part of our books and history.