The Long-Tailed Chinchilla is one of the two rodent species under the genus Chinchilla.
The Scientific Name : Chinchilla lanigera
The word Chinchilla means “little Chincha”, named after the Chincha people from the native Andes mountain range and “lanigera” means “having a woolen coat”
Just a century ago the the Long-Tailed Chinchilla was found in millions in the Andes and adjacent mountain range of South America. But currently very few Chinchilla survive in the wild. It is believed that almost 90% of their population declined withing just three generations of the species (~15 years). Currently the species is restricted only to the Andes mountain range of northern Chile in small fragmented colonies. The long-tailed Chinchilla prefers high altitude (3000-5000 meter) barren and arid lands. It makes individual shelter in the holes and crevices in the rocks of the mountains.
The long-tailed Chinchillas are social animals. They live in colonies in burrows and tunnels on the rocky terrain. A big colony can have upto 100 individuals. The Chinchillas are nocturnal in nature, activity increasing during dusk and dawn. They are considered omnivorous, but the diet mainly consists of seeds, grass and other vegetation. Sometimes their diet consist of small bird eggs and insects. The female Long-Tailed Chinchillas are generally monogamous, while the males are not. They do have a gestation period of 108-125 days, very long compared to other small mammal. But this results in well developed babies, with full fur, eyes opened and a full set of teeth. The babies need least parental care and can become independent within just 6 weeks of time. The female normally gives birth to 2-6 litters at a time. In wild the long-tailed Chinchilla can live around 10 years, while in activity it can live upto 20 years.
The long-tailed Chinchilla is considered very pretty animal, that’s it’s so popular in the pet market. It broad head, large ears and large black eyes. The body is covered with the softest and densest fur to counter the high altitude barren climate it habitats. The tail measure almost one third of the size of the body. The hind legs are long and strong. While eating it stands on teh hind legs and grab the food with the fore legs. The general color of upper parts is bluish or silvery gray; the underparts are yellowish-white. In size it is equivalent to common rabbits (around 10 25 cm in of body length), but the females are much bigger than the males. The female can grow upto 800 grams while the males barely reach 500 grams.
Hunting was the greatest threat for the long-tailed Chinchillas in late 19th and 20th century. Their fur and cute look were curse to their existence. In late 20th centuries proper measures were taken to prevent hunting and protect the remaining wild populations. But in recent years, though hunting has reduced, it has suffered due to habitat destruction by the burning and harvesting of the shrub at lower altitudes.Also the grazing animals, increased predation by foxes have threatened the wild habitat of the Chinchillas. The low reproduction rate in the wild is making the situation more grave. Many experts now believe that the Long-tailed Chinchillas have a population that is lower than the minimum viable population size for long-term survival.
Till 1970, there were no proper conservation efforts were put to save the Long-tailed Chinchillas from hunted and traded. It was the time when the species was believed to be extinct in wild and rediscovered again in Central Chile. Post the rediscovery, strict laws were put against poaching or trading of wild Chinchillas and also covered under CITES Appendices. But due to the high demand for pelts and pet markets, the government of Chile successfully proposed in 1994 that domesticated chinchillas and their fur not be covered by CITES Appendices. Various research on the behaviour and habitat of the species were also done. Currently many of the wild populations are protested in fenced reserves, like the Reserva Nacional Las Chinchillas. The species is bred successfully in captivity, but the reintroduction of the captive individuals into wild have not been successful. The species has reached an red alarming level of population and reintroduction and human interventions are necessary to save it in the wild. The recent conservation efforts focus on increasing the area and quality of the Chinchilla habitat and also educating the local communities.
The Long-Tailed Chinchilla