Are Chinchillas Endangered?

Credit: Louise Gebel

The answer to this question has two answers. In the wild, chinchillas are endangered. However, domestic chinchillas are not. Chinchillas kept as pets are bred to maintain a constant supply for the breeders that sell them. This breeding should allow human chinchilla parents some relief as they are not contributing to the demise of the wild chinchilla.

History

In the sixteenth century, Spaniards traveled to South America. They discovered a tribe of native people named the Chinchas. They wore the fur of the chinchilla, which was later named this after the Chincha tribe. These native people introduced the Spaniards to these rodents. The Spaniards then decided to take some of them home with them. These Spanish people started a fur business. With the chinchillas super soft and dense coat, it was a boon for them. However, in the following years, thousands of chinchillas were killed for their fur. This fact nearly led to their extinction then.

At the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become rare due to the hunt for their coats. In 1923 international law was put into effect to protect chinchillas in the wild. Even with protection in place, the chinchilla population continues to decline. Just over 5,000 of these creatures can be accounted for today. In South America, hunters still poach them for their fur. The chinchilla fur trade is illegal in many countries now also. However, in the places it’s not, they still covet the thick, soft fur.

Why are Chinchillas Endangered?

Chinchillas are endangered because of their soft, thick fur mostly. There are a few other contributing factors, but the fur trade is the largest. Chinchilla fur is thick and dense, with 50 to 60 hairs to one follicle. That’s 20,000 hairs per square centimeter—ten times more than an adult human.

Chinchilla fur is so thick that fleas and ticks cannot penetrate it to reach their skin. You can imagine that a coat made from chinchilla fur is not only luxurious but warmer than most other material would ever be. These coats are in high demand in cold countries like Russia and Kazakhstan.

Chinchillas were not only hunted for their fur but their meat as well. Considered a delicacy, it is rich in monounsaturated fats. Their flesh is said to be tender but less nutritious than the meat of other rodents. Few restaurants serve chinchilla meat as their meat must come from certified breeders. I can’t even imagine going to a restaurant that served chinchilla meat, can you? Wow.

Human activity is the biggest threat these rodents have. From nearly being hunted to extinction for their fur, they have suffered destruction of their habitat. They’ve had to compete with cattle and goats. With strip mining and deforestation added into the mix, it’s no wonder, so few of these cute little rodents exist.

Why do Chinchillas Continue to Die Off?

Actions to protect chinchillas failed and left extinction a real possibility. The IUCN or International Union for Conservation of Nature has suggested that the wild chinchilla population may be too small to repopulate naturally. According to IUCN, only 5,350 adults were accounted for in 2015. What doesn’t help the matter if there is still illegal poaching going on. The IUCN’s red list page on long-tailed chinchillas states insufficient data, and they have not been assessed since October 31st, 2015.

How can You Help Wild Chinchillas?

As a pet chinchilla parent, you are making a difference and helping the endanger chinchillas. Your pet is one of many captive-bred chinchillas. That means your chinchilla or chinchillas were never wild. More than likely, they are generations from their wild cousins. Pet chinchillas are too domesticated to release into the wild. However, they are a population themselves, and though they may not be entirely similar to their wild counterparts, they still exist and are helping keep the chinchilla species alive. As a chinchilla parent, it would be great for you to spread the awareness of the wild chinchilla’s plight. Perhaps you can find a way to support the protection of these fantastic rodents.

Suppose you’d like to help, you can look at Global Wildlife Conservation or Save the Wild Chinchillas. These sites both have donations buttons, but there may be other ways you can get involved as well.

In Conclusion

Wild chinchillas are on the brink of extinction because when discovered, they were seen for their thick, soft fur. Humans also managed to destroy their habitat to the point they live in smaller and smaller areas. The wild chinchilla population is down to just over 5,000 adults, and that was in 2015. Five years have passed at time of writing this article in 2020. The point is that wild chinchillas are endangered and headed for extinction unless someone steps in to help them.

I hope this article was informative to you. What do you think about the chinchilla species that your pet chinchilla came from being endangered and near extinction? Let us know in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

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