A Brief History of the Chinchilla

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Filed in Small Animals, Chinchilla

Like many beautiful furry creatures from around the world, chinchillas were initially known for their soft and luxurious fur coats. Chinchillas were named by Spaniards, after Chincha Indians who used the chinchillas for food and clothing. Found on the slopes in the Andes, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, Chins (as they are sometimes called) eventually became the official furs of the Inca royalty. Inca then conquered the Chincha Indians and forbid them to wear chinchilla fur.
In the 16th century, Spaniards conquered the Incas. The Spanish queen received great tributes from her subjects, including boxes of jewels wrapped in chinchilla fur, directly taken from the Inca chief. 

Don't Kill the Messenger

Ironically, a messenger to the queen stole the jewels from the boxes and instead sent the queen boxes containing Chinchilla robes. The queen was so delighted with the fur that she had the messenger found and brought to court. Instead of torture and death as he expected, the messenger was knighted as a token of her appreciation for such a rare and exquisite fur, more beautiful and luxurious than any she had ever seen before.

After that, of course, every woman in Spain coveted a prized coat like the queen had, hence the chinchilla became a popular coat to have. Because of the chinchilla's unique coloring and texture, the pelt became highly prized.

The Chin Gets a Brief Break

As with all things in great demand, Chinchillas were hunted and captured to near extinction by the turn of the century. In 1918, the forward thinking governments of Chile, Peru and Bolivia outlawed the exportation of pelts and prohibited trapping.

Also in 1918, a mining engineer in Chile by the name of Mathias F. Chapman, came across the fur of a chinchilla brought his way by an Indian trapper, who brought the fur to his mining camp. Chapman realized the worth of the chinchilla. Shocked at the destruction of the chinchilla population, he became fascinated with the idea of trapping enough animals alive so that he could bring them to the United States and raise them in captivity as a means of saving the species.

Because chinchillas were almost extinct and efforts to domesticate them had failed, many of Chapman's friends thought he was nuts. Still, Champan hired a few Indian trappers and promised them gold for every blue chinchilla brought to him alive. After four years, and more than 20 Indians scouring the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, a small number of these precious animals (11) were gathered, and brought to the US.

From the initial imports, the chinchilla industry grew to a profitable business. In the early 1950's, breeding pairs sold for thousands of dollars. The true value of chinchillas could not be set because the pelt market had not been established.

Pelts Become Popular Yet Again

Because the coats are so beautiful, the business of selling pelts became profitable in the US. Organizations were formed and a market for chinchilla pelts was born. After the pelts were upgraded in quality, an advertising and promotion plan took effect. Breeders who once raised chinchillas for its uniqueness, soon found a more profitable business raising chinchilla for their fur coats. Recent compaigns by animal rights activists have since allowed chinchillas to made a comeback as desirable pets.

Why Are They So Prized?

Rodents by nature, but as far away from the species as possible, chinchillas grow up to 10­-12 inches long. Their long bushy tails represent a little more than half their body length. When they're full-grown they can weigh up to 24 ounces.

Chinchillas come in a variety of colors, accented by their short, erect ears, dark eyes and long, sensitive whiskers. Their front legs are short, and their hind legs are strong. Though they don't have thumbs, chins use their front legs as hands much of the time.

Chinchillas are funny creatures who make little squeals, squeaks and barks. They clean themselves by rolling in a pan of pumice dust. Of course the main attraction is the fur. Chinchillas have 80­-100 hairs per follicle compared to two or three in other fur bearing animals. The chinchilla is reported to have no odor, especially if his cage is cleaned every week. Also, chinchillas are nocturnal and generally sleep during the day and feed at night.

Article written by Pet Food Express Staff

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