Chinchilla Origin and History
Chinchillas originate from high altitudes of the Andes Mountains that runs along the western coast of South America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. It is about six hundred miles long and two hundred miles wide. This mountainous area has a desert like appearance with very little rainfall and little vegetation.
Chinchillas habitat is almost 3miles above sea level. The clime is dry as humidity is low facing the Pacific Ocean. The Andes climate is harsh, windy, cold and dry. Andes are terrain is rocky and sparse. The mountain is covered by volcanic ash that chinchillas use to bathe in. Andes vegetation is only shrubs, grass, seeds and particular cacti.
The chinchillas have quite few enemies like snakes, lions and birds. Chinchilla tries to hide from these predators to burrows and rock crevices. Wild chinchillas live in herds in their natural habitat, not only for social interactions, but also to help guard against the predators and dangers that exist. Wild chinchillas would adopt a ‘look-out’ chinchilla who would stay alert to potential threats as the colony emerged from their burrows to feed and play. Chinchillas would sleep in the rocks and crevices in the hot daylight hours and explore during the night that is cool and much safer to find food to eat. In the chinchilla’s original habitat, their diet is very bland, mainly feeding off the sparse vegetation such as bushes, cacti, berries, and grass. They consume water from the dew found on the rocks and shrubs in the early morning as sunrise emerges.
The pet chinchillas we have today owe their origins to a mining engineer named Mathias F Chapman.
In 1923, he succeeded to bring 11 live chinchillas to America by bringing them down the mountains slowly enough to allow them to acclimatize. The ship to California also carried ice to keep the chinchillas cool. One female even gave birth whilst on board.
They appear to eat a wide variety of plants that can be found at altitude in the Andes, making the most of seasonal fruits and seeds. They use their dexterity and intelligence to find food that may be relatively inaccessible to other animals. They weight between 600g and 900g, with females generally are larger and heavier than males.
Chinchillas have always been native to the same territory and never migrated to any other area.
It is said that they first used for its fur long before the Inca Empire. The Incas started as a small warlike tribe in Peru sometime around 1100 AD.
The chinchilla received its name from the Spanish who named it after the Chincha Indians, who had used the fur and introduced it to the Incas. Chinchilla means Little Chincha in Spanish. When the Spaniards discovered them, they were already wearing furs. In the 1400’s they began to expand their Empire, continuing over the next 100 years. During this expansion, they conquered many tribes, including the Chinchas, who had used the chinchilla for clothing, food, and pets and used the fur to weave blankets.
Chinchilla fur is amongst the most rare and expensive in the world. It takes 100-150 pelts for a waist length coat and at least 250 for a full-length coat.
In the 19th century, demand from the European and American markets drove the chinchilla population almost to the brink of extinction.