- A Romantic History | About the Chinchilla
| Housing and Caging | Feeding
The Chinchilla has been internationally prized for its luxuriously
soft fur since shortly after the conquest and occupation
of Spanish America. There, on the dry slopes of the Andes
in Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, they flourished in
the wild state. Chinchilla got its name from the Chincha
Indians, who used the chinchilla for food and clothing.
During the 15th Century, a
tribe of Indians, the Chinchas, had hunted and trapped this
tiny animal subsisting on the meat and using the skins to
sleep on. They also wore robes woven from the plucked fur.
So the Spaniards called this all important little animal
Chinchilla after the Chinchas.
In time, the Chinchas were
conquered by the mighty Inca Indians. Under Inca rule, the
Chinchas were forbidden to wear the Chinchilla robes. They
immediately became the fur of the Inca Royalty and adorned
only those Incas who were of noble birth.
In the 16th Century the Incas
were, in turn, conquered by the Spaniards who demanded great
tributes for their queen. A story is told of one emissary
who, seeking to win favor, sent his queen a strong box filled
with jewels and gold plate. For protection, he wrapped the
box in a Chinchilla robe that he had taken from an Inca
The messenger, however, who
was dispatched to the queen stole the jewels and gold plate
and sent the queen only the box into which he had stuffed
the Chinchilla robe. He then fled. So delighted was the
queen with this exquisite 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.
Thus Chinchilla was introduced
to the civilized world every woman in Spain longed for
fur such as the queen wore. Never had they seen a fur so
soft, so light, of such delicate bluegray tones, with such
subtle, almost iridescent shading. It was a never ending
source of fascination and envy to all who were fortunate
enough to see Chinchilla.
So great was the demand that
the Spaniards in South America sought for Chinchilla with
the same zeal that they searched for gold and precious stones.
The demand continued to grow faster than the supply as news
of this rare and lovely fur spread over Europe.
The mining ventures called
the British to the Andes and, longing for their native sport,
they sent to England for red foxes which they turned loose
in the Chinchilla's native habitat. On weekends, the English
hunted the fox, and every day and night during the week
the fox hunted the Chinchilla.
Between the demand for the
fur and the predator fox, the Chinchilla was reduced to
near extinction by the turn of the century.
In 1918, the governments of
Chile, Peru and Bolivia outlawed the exportation of pelts
and prohibited trapping but the harm was already done.
In 1918, Mathias F. Chapman,
a mining engineer in Chile, became acquainted with this
priceless furbearer. One day an Indian trapper brought
one of the precious animals to the mining camp. Chapman,
realizing the inestimable worth of Chinchilla, and being
shocked at the destruction of the Chinchilla population,
became fascinated with the idea of trapping enough animals
alive so that he might bring them to the United States and
raise them in captivity as the one and only means of actually
saving the species.
His associates knew that the
Chinchilla was practically extinct in the wilds and that
all efforts to domesticate them had failed, so when Chapman
actually set about his plan to rescue the Chinchilla, they
thought him mad. He hired several Indian trappers and promised
them much gold for every "blue" Chinchilla they brought
to him alive.
At last, after four years with
as many as 23 Indians covering the high peaks of the Andes
mountains, a small number of these precious animals were
accumulated. Eleven of these animals reached the United
States and they can truly be called the "founding fathers"
of today's Chinchilla population.
Since 1923 when the first eleven
animals were imported to the United States, the Chinchilla
industry has grown from a wild promotional game to a sound,
profitable business. As late as the early 1950's, breeding
pairs sold for thousands of dollars. The true value of Chinchilla
could not be set because the pelt market had not been established.
The term quality meant very little.
But even during this speculative
period, men with practical vision could see a great future
for the Chinchilla industry. These men recognized the potential
market for Chinchilla pelts. They formed organizations for
creating a market for Chinchilla pelts.
They first adopted standards
to upgrade the quality of pelts. An advertising and promotion
plan was soon put into effect proclaiming these quality
pelts. Breeders thus found raising Chinchilla a profitable
Today the Chinchilla industry
is thriving and growing daily.
M. F. Chapman
Back to the
Chinchillas are one of the friendliest and cleanest animals.
Chinchilla is a distinct species; a Rodent that is genetically
nonrelated to any other.
They are 1012 inches long
when full grown. They have a long bushy tail, slightly more
than 1/2 the body length, that comes up over their back.
An average size of a full grown Chinchilla weighs 1624
They have prominent beautiful
dark eyes and small short erect ears. They have long sensitive
whiskers. The front legs are comparatively short and small
whereas the hind legs are strong much like a kangaroo.
They have no claws and use their front feet as hands.
The very luxurious quality
and fine texture of the Chinchilla have led people to believe
the animal is fragile. This is not true. Even though they
are soft and cuddly, they are a very hardy animal. They
have absolutely no odor, make very little noise and are
gentle and easy to raise. They have no fleas, ticks or lice
and are virtually parasite free. They clean themselves by
tumbling in a pan of pumice dust.
The fur itself is Chinchilla's
claim to fame. Chinchillas have 80100 hairs per follicle
compared to two or three in other fur bearing animals. The
fur of a Chinchilla is about 3/4" to 1" in length and stands
totally erect and perpendicular to the skin. Another outstanding
characteristic of Chinchilla is its triple tone color, making
it impossible to imitate as is the common practice when
cheap fur is dyed to look like higher priced furs. Each
fur fiber has three distinct colors. Next to the skin is
a deep slate gray extending about half the length of the
fur. Above that is a band of white 1/8" wide, then a dark
outer tip which we call veiling. This triple toned color
gives Chinchilla a shimmering glow that almost defies description.
Chinchilla fur is the lightest
weight fur because the leather is very soft and pliable,
and is extremely light weight. Other furs are heavy, bulky
and pull on the shoulders when worn. It has been said that
a square yard of Chinchilla weighs no more than a square
yard of silk. The density and fineness of the fur gives
it a unique softness that is almost impossible to feel.
In contrast to all other fur
bearing animals, this little animal has absolutely no odor.
If shavings are changed every week to ten days, there won't
even be odors from the bedding or cage. This is one reason
for the Chinchilla gaining such popularity for home ranching.
Chinchillas are nocturnal. They generally sleep during the
day and feed at night.
Back to the
Housing of Chinchilla need not be complex. Many new ranchers
start in a garage, basement or spare room.
Chinchilla buildings throughout
the world are quite varied in size, shape and design. In
moderate climates with low humidity, Chinchillas can be
successfully raised in semiopen shelter type buildings.
However, in areas ranging from hot humid summers to extremely
cold winters, a well insulated building is desired for future
Most people start in an existing
area such as a basement, spare room or garage with just
a very few animals. This is the easiest and least expensive
way to start. The wise investor invests in quality breeding
stock first and more elaborate buildings and equipment later.
Solid bottom cages with metal
trays and pine shavings allow for the stacking of cages
45 rows high. This enables using only 1 1/2 square feet
of floor space per animal; in other words, 150 sq. ft. of
floor space per 100 animals. Cages vary from ranch to ranch,
however, an optimum size is 12" high, 15" wide and 24" deep.
Cage material can be a combination of wood, wire and metal.
A polygamous colony of one male and five females utilizing
6 cage openings occupies a space of 1' x 2' x 8'.
The most comfortable temperature
range for Chinchilla housing is 50°F75°F. In areas having
extreme heat, especially coupled with high humidity, some
air conditioning may be needed.
Back to the
Feeding cost for Chinchilla is the lowest of any ranch raised
fur bearing animal because they are vegetarians. Mink and
fox are meat eaters. This is also true because of their
size. A 24 ounce animal cannot consume very much. A simple
diet of commercial pellets, hay and water is all that is
required. An adult will consume only about 1520 pounds
of feed per year. Usually two or three tablespoons of pellets
a day is all that is required. A small alfalfa cube is also
given once a week. One adult animal will consume only about
1 1/2 ounces of water per day. Pint water bottles are used
and will last about ten days.
Chinchillas will not overeat.
They can be self fed. In other words, a feeder holding a
34 day supply can be used. Other than cage cleaning time,
daily care is very minimal. Cage cleaning is done weekly
during humid times and every two weeks during dry times
or in drier climates.
Back to the