Silvery gray pelt, each hair tipped by black, very dense and soft, with up to 60 hairs growing from each follicle. Adults weigh about 500-800 grams with females larger than males. Large, rounded ears and eyes, pupils vertical slits. The short forefoot and narrow hind foot have four digits with stiff bristles surrounding the weak claws. Tails have coarse long gray and black hairs on the dorsal surface. Vibrissae are very long (110 mm).
GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Relatively barren foothills of the Andes at elevations of 3,000 to 5,000 meters and in the coastal mountains of Chile, sheltering in crevices and holes among the rocks.
Herbivorous. Strictly herbivorous, eating any available vegetation.
LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
Colonial, formerly found in groups of about 100 individuals. Earlier reports of monogamy probably erroneous. Relatively long gestation period (111 days) but still may produce two litters during the long summer season. Gives birth to two or three exceedingly precocial young weighing about 35 g. each. Lactation lasts between six and eight weeks. Both males and females become fertile at about eight months of age. Life span is 10 years in the wild, twice that in captivity.
Nocturnal (large eyes and long vibrissae). Dense fur indicates the depth of cold at the altitudes they inhabit. This fur has led to their extirpation. Feet adept at jumping, clinging and climbing over rocks.
As late as 1900 an estimated 500,000 skins were being exported annually from Chile. Shortly thereafter, however, chinchillas became rare and the skin price went higher. It is the most valuable fur of any in the world, considering its size and weight. Wild chinchilla coats have sold for $100,000, and that was years ago. Their descendants are bred commercially throughout the world. Reintroduction attempts have not been successful.
1 male. *This animal is used in our Education Zoomobile program and is not viewable by the public.
STATUS IN WILD:
Almost extinct in the wild. On appendix 1 of the CITES, classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN (1972), and listed as endangered by the USDI(1980).