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WHAT IS A CHINCHILLA???
So how is a Chinchilla classified? Chinchillas are native to the high Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Peru and Chile. They belong to the order Rodentia, and so are related to Squirrels, Guniea pigs, Mice, Gerbils and Degus!
The Chinchilla has always been highly priced for its fur. For hundreds of years the South American people that shared their land with Chinchillas used the fur to fashion light weight, warm clothing.
In the 1500s, Spanish Explorers collected the pelts of Chinchillas and took them home to use as trim on royal clothing. Over the years, many people tried to bring live specimens down from the Mountains, but the Chinchillas never survived the trip.
M.F. Chapman was a mining engineer from California who was working in Chile in 1918. He purchased a Chinchilla as a pet and developed a strong bond with it. As a result, he envisioned keeping a whole herd of Chinchillas, and was very much determined to succeed.
Chapman made applications to the Chilian Government for permission to capture and transport a group of Chinchillas to the U.S. At this point however, Chinchillas were already becoming much rarer creatures in their own land, and so the Government was reluctant. However Chapman didnt give up, and in the end was granted permission. Over the next 3 years, Chapman and his group of 23 trappers only managed to find and capture 11 specimens. The next issue was how to bring them down from the mountain.
Chapman theorized that previous attempts had been unsuccessful because the Chinchillas had not had enough time to acclimatised to the environment as they descended. As a result, the 12000foot trip back down the mountain lasted a whole 12 months! This hard work must have been worth it however, as all 11 specimens survived!
Back home in California, Chapman continued his meticulous care of his Chinchilla herd, and gradually their numbers increased. But they were still incredibly rare, one pair of Chinchillas that Chapman sold cost $3200!!! Over time more Chinchilla ranches grew up over the U.S. and eventually the pet market became more familiar with Chinchillas as we know them today. Still today, all Chinchillas available and kept as pets are descended from those few that Chapman brought to the U.S.
So now having read the history of the Chinchilla, if you are still interested in these fascinating animals, please read the next page to see if a Chinchilla is right for you!