Chinchilla

Location

In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: lanigera
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Chinchillidae
Genus: Chinchilla

Size

Male

Female

Height: 4 inches 3.5 inches
Length: 10 inches 8 inches
Weight: 15 ounces 12 ounces
Maturity: 8 months 2 years

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Herbivorous
Activity Timeframe: Crepuscular
Interactivity: Social
Sexual Dimorphism: No
Gestation: 111 days
Lifespan in the Wild: 10 years
Lifespan in Captivity: 20 years

Geographic Range

Chinchillas are endemic to the Andes Mountain range in South America and are found at elevations up to 14,000 feet and no lower than 3,000 feet.

Conservation

Status in the Wild: Critically Endangered
Threats: Population

Characteristics

Only slightly larger than their distant cousin, the squirrel, Chinchillas are small mammals in the rodent family. Chinchillas are covered in thick, grey ultra-fine fur with roughly 60 hairs per follicle. Large, rounded ears dominate the facial features along with long whiskers, small eyes and nose. Their tail is just as long as its body and is also busy and covered in fur.

Species Specifics

Physical Characteristics

Anatomical: Chinchilla have the softest and most dense covering of fur out of all mammals except the Sea Otter. This fur is essential for providing protection from not only the harsh winds and snow, but from potential parasites who are unable to penetrate the fur to the skin.

Ecology

Habitat

High desert

Distribution

Predominantly found in Chile, Peru and Bolivia as well as parts of Argentina, Chinchillas are elusive and were once thought to be extinct in the wild until researchers found small populations living near the peaks of the Andes Mountains strictly on the Pacific Ocean side of the mountains where it is less humid. The vegetation at this altitude is sparse and comprised of shrubs, grasses and cacti. The terrain is steep and rocky with deposits of volcanic ash and stone making up the majority of the landscape.

Diet

Chinchilla feed primarily on shrubs and grasses found in the Andes Mountains, rarely eating insects or grubs, chinchilla are considered herbivores.

Ecological Web

Chinchilla are primary consumers of grasses and other vegetation. They are an important prey species for many birds of prey and larger mammals. Without chinchilla in the wild populations for their predators will also decline. Their main food item, algarrobilla shrub, has a unique relationship with the chinchilla and rely on it for seed dispersal and pollination. This shrub is of importance to the habitat as a food source for other animals as well as providing nesting materials for birds Without chinchilla, this plant would most likely go extinct thus having a negative impact on the entire ecosystem. Predators: Include birds of prey such as the Caracara and Osprey as well as Pumas, Andean Wild Cats and sadly, people feed on and kill chinchilla for their fur.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Most active in the early morning and late evenings following the sun as it rises and sets, chinchillas are considered Crepuscular. Nights are spent huddled together in family groups to avoid the cold while daylight hours are spent resting to avoid the heat and predators. Chinchillas do not hibernate and are active year around.

Behavior

Chinchilla are extremely particular about their fur and are almost always grooming themselves or each other. Chinchilla will also take regular dust baths in the volcanic ash deposits found throughout the Andes. These dust baths are essential for Chinchilla health as their fur must be properly maintained to insure proper weather proofing when faced with such harsh climate conditions.

Social Behavior

Chinchillas are considered highly social animals living in family groups called herds and consist of up to 100 individuals. Each herd is made up of several family groups with limited dominance established by females. Chinchillas are tolerant of their territory amongst other chinchillas and will often share shelters amongst the cracks and crevices in order to keep warm. Chinchillas are known to groom and nibble at each other to establish and strengthen social bonds among group members.

Reproductive Behavior

Females, rather than males, become more aggressive in mating season, mostly due to unwanted advances by males. Female Chinchillas will hiss, bite, charge and even spray urine at males if they are not ready to mate. Females have been known to viciously attack males giving them wounds which often result in death. The actual copulation only lasts a few seconds after hours of build-up in which the pair will take turns chasing each other. Males do not leave the females as the species are considered monogamous. Males may bring the female food and will assist in bathing and grooming the female while her behavior patterns become less active.

Offspring

Typically only 1-2 chinchilla are born, however rare cases of up to 4 have been documented in human care. Offspring are born with fur and are able to hop and climb within 3 hours of being born.

Conservation

Status

The Chinchilla are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN as well as many other organizations. They are thought to exist only in Chile and are extinct in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina

Historical

Their historic range included most of the Andes range from Ecuador south to Chile and Argentina, however the fur trade has decimated the population. In the 1920s attempts were made at domestication but due to a lack of knowledge on Chinchilla care many exported chinchillas never survived their transport journey. It wasn't until the 1930s that a stable population was established and subsequently harvested for their pelts. Chinchilla have been successfully eradicated from most of their natural habitat and despite efforts to curtail their exploitation, poachers still manage to slaughter wild chinchillas for their fur. Today, Chinchilla fur trade is highly regulated and harvested from domesticated Chinchilla farms. Chinchilla are also domesticated as pets and sold across the US in pet stores.

Current Threats

Population

Our Role

The Oakland Zoo is home to one Chinchilla who is used on education programs to help inform the community on the harm of the Fur trade. While domestic farming for fur has less of an impact on wild populations, it is still important that this practice still increases demand for coats which incentivizes illegal poaching in the wild.

How You Can Help

Avoid buying fur of any animal and support buying Faux Fur when possible. It is important to remember that even fur that has been farmed still creates a demand for the product.

Fascinating Facts

Chinchillas are very fast, agile jumpers and can leap up to 6 feet high and cover a distance of 8 feet in a rapid succession of jumps!

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinchilla

http://www.chinchillaguide.com/chinchilla-information/chinchilla-behavior/ 2012

http://www.chinchillachronicles.com/index.html 2008-2016, Mirella Poli, UK

P.O. Box 5238

9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA 94605