A Few Facts About Wild Chinchillas
Most of us will likely not see wild chinchillas in our lifetime. They have become quite scarce, plus finding them in their native habitats requires climbing to heights that will make many of us uncomfortable. Wild chinchillas are native to South America, specifically the Andes Mountains. Named after the Chincha people who live in the Andes, the chinchilla is a member of the Chinchillidae family.
There are two surviving species of wild chinchillas, both quite rare. A third species, the Giant chinchilla was hunted to extinction many years ago. The existing species, which are fairly identical in shape and size, are the Chinchilla lanigera, to which most domesticated chinchillas are related, and the Chinchilla brevicaudata. Both species have become quite rare in the wild state, with the species Chinchilla brevicaudata facing possible extinction.
The Fur's The Thing - The scarcity of the chinchilla in the wild is because of its highly prized fur. While many domesticated chinchillas are a part of the pet trade, some are also raised for their fur. Prior to the advent of chinchilla ranches, the wild chinchillas were heavily hunted, leading to their precarious existence today. Being only slightly larger than a ground squirrel, it takes a number of wild chinchillas to make a single fur coat. Chinchilla fur is extremely soft and extremely thick, so thick that it provides the chinchilla with a means of defense in the wild. A predator attacking a chinchilla often comes away with nothing but a mouthful of fur.
The chinchilla's fur is so thick that to keep clean, wild chinchillas take dust baths as water will not easily penetrate all the way to their skin. A chinchilla will usually take several dust baths a week, a necessity that most pet owners need to be keenly aware of. A wet chinchilla can soon become a very sick chinchilla. While domesticated chinchillas come in a variety of colors, attained through selective breeding, the fur of wild chinchillas is uniformly gray.
Nosebleed Country - Wild chinchillas live in cracks and crevices in rocky terrain at high altitude. The can survive at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet. Such altitudes border on the so-called "death zone" for humans, who can normally not exists for lengthy periods of time above about 14,000 feet. They are a burrowing animal, and live in colonies, with a group of chinchillas usually referred to as a herd. The chinchilla is an herbivore, eating mainly grasses and seeds. They drink only small amounts of water, and usually avoid foods containing excessive moisture which can cause them to bloat, a potentially fatal condition. Chinchillas will also eat wildflowers and some fruits when available. The chinchilla's digestive system is quite slow working as they do not easily digest the cellulose in their diet. Many of the nutrients will pass right through without doing the animal a great deal of good. To rectify this situation, the chinchilla will eat its own feces, recycling their food supply in a sense, to get the most from the nutrients it contains.
Population Grows Slowly - Wild chinchillas have a relatively long life span, though normally not as long as domesticated chinchillas. Except for predators, a wild chinchilla will live for about 10 years, though domesticated chinchillas have lived more than twice that long. While chinchillas will "breed like rabbits", the population of wild chinchillas does not explode, because the gestation period for the female is 111 days, limiting her to between 2 and 3 litters a year, with the usual litter size being 2 kits, although a litter of up to 5 kits sometimes occurs. The chinchilla is born with its eyes open, and is able to begin walking around soon after its birth.
Wild chinchillas are now protected species in the countries of their origin, specifically Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. Hopefully, the protection being given to them will lead to a rebound in their population, or at least keep either species from becoming extinct.