Are Chinchillas Endangered?

Do you know that chinchillas are descendants of some of the first rodents to invade South America 41 million years ago? However, these chinchillas have made it to the list of ‘Endangered Species. Your next question must be, why? Well, there are quite a several reasons driving them toward extinction. wild chinchillas were once believed to be extinct and are now listed as endangered.

The chinchillas in pet shops and your home aren’t at risk of extinction. It’s wild chinchillas who live in their natural habitat in the mountains and are at risk of disappearing forever. These wild chinchillas were once believed to be extinct and are now listed as endangered species.

History of Chinchillas

Chinchillas are native to the mighty Andes Mountains of Southern America and used to live in the range including Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile. But now, they are predominantly found in Chile. Their natural habitats are the rocky and high-elevated mountains.

There are two types of chinchillas. One of them is Chinchilla chinchilla and Chinchilla lanigera. C. chinchilla has a short tail, thick neck and shoulders, and short ears and C. lanigera has a long tail and large ears with a thin and less-rounded body. Usually, the long-tailed chinchillas are kept as pets.

These wild chinchillas came to be domesticated for the first time by an American man called Mathias Chapman who acquired a pet chinchilla while working in Chile. Chapman brought back 11 chinchillas with him to the US. It is believed that all the pet chinchillas present in the States are the descendants of those 11 chinchillas brought back by Chapman. 

Are Chinchillas Endangered?

Yes, chinchillas are endangered mammals. Both species of chinchillas, i.e. chinchilla chinchilla and chinchilla lanigera have been listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. There has been a severe population loss of approximately 90% globally population loss over the last 15 years. 

The short-tailed chinchillas are believed to be extinct in Peru and Bolivia. The long-tailed chinchillas are most often kept as pets and are considered to be at the greatest risk of extinction out of the two.

Chinchillas have been endangered for 15 years now. They are facing imminent danger and can become extinct in the next 10 years. However, it should be noted that it is the wild chinchillas who are at risk of extinction and not the pet chinchillas.

In 2006, the long-tailed chinchillas were listed as ‘Vulnerable’ and the short-tailed chinchillas were listed as ‘Critically Endangered’. By 2008, both were listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List. In 2016, they were reclassified as ‘Endangered’ because of their limited recovery in some areas.

Why are Chinchillas Endangered?

For Their Fur 

Chinchillas have the thickest fur out of all land mammals. This makes their fur quite in demand. They have about 60 hairs coming out of a single hair follicle.

Coats made up of chinchilla fur are one of the most expensive and luxurious coats out there. Such high demand gives the poachers extra motivation to hunt the wild chinchillas. However, nowadays, nearly all the coats and garments of chinchilla fur come from the captive chinchillas living on farms.

But, it should be noted that fur coats are one of the reasons why chinchillas become endangered in the first place. During the 16th century, after being discovered by Europeans, chinchillas with beautiful fur became a part of the international fur trade. By the early 20th century, wild chinchillas were nearly extinct due to hunting and poaching.

For Their Meat

Fur is not the only reason why chinchillas become endangered over the decades or centuries. Fur is not the only body part of chinchillas that humans put to use. Chinchillas were hunted for their meat as well.

Chinchilla meat is rich in monounsaturated fats. Due to this, their meat is considered a delicacy in some cuisines. This has made chinchillas prey for humans.

But, while counting on the reasons for the chinchillas becoming an endangered species, we need to pay attention that hunting chinchillas for their meat are not the primary reason. To be precise, a very small number of chinchillas become prey to humans for their meat. In comparison to other reasons, this reason seems almost non-existent but still, it’s a contributing factor for shifting them to the ‘Endangered’ list. 

Mining & Other Human Activities

Hunting and poaching is not the only factor responsible for making the chinchillas endangered. Other human activities including mining also played a vital role in this. With the loss of their natural habitat, it became inevitable for them not to reduce in numbers.

Mining affects the wild chinchillas in many aspects. The disturbance in the ground and eradication of vegetation, simply makes their habitat inhabitable. Not only this, but it also causes noise pollution, which is a huge problem for extremely sensitive chinchillas.

Apart from mining, deforestation has led to chinchillas losing their home. When a natural habitat is destroyed, it is no longer able to support its native species. Cutting down the forests to build up human encroachments, roads, bridges, farms and other infrastructures has destroyed chinchillas’ natural habitat.

Due to habitat destruction and food shortages, chinchillas are forced to flee their homes. New habitats don’t suit them well, so they die.

What Can You Do To Help

Humans are the reason why chinchillas ended up getting into that list of endangered species. Henceforth, it becomes our duty to do something for them to increase their numbers. We need to join forces to protect the remaining wild chinchillas.

Nowadays, local authorities are trying to find new ways to aid wild chinchillas’ conservation. Some of these efforts include providing more areas where chinchillas can settle and reproduce, away from the dangers or disturbances of human activity. The rodents in these areas are also carefully monitored and helped to adjust to their new surroundings.

We, as individuals, can reach out and lend a helping hand to this cause. There are also plenty of organizations and NGOs working for conserving the wild chinchillas and resettling them in their new homes. You can join forces with, or donate to, Tulsa Zoo or Save the Wild Chinchillas if you want to do your bit to help.

Final Words

Chinchillas are an endangered species and are near the verge of extinction. The number of wild chinchillas is reducing by the day, despite us being able to find plenty of them at the pet shops. Some speculate that chinchillas will be extinct by the end of the decade. 

The various reasons the chinchilla has become endangered all point toward one single direction, humans. And now it is our responsibility to save them. We have to band together to donate and volunteer our resources to rescue these furry little creatures and save them from extinction.