Chinchillas live high in the Andes Mountains, on peaks as tall as 16,500 feet. They are nocturnal and hide out in rock crevices during the day. Quick and agile, they are strong jumpers and can leap out of the way when they sense danger nearby. Chinchillas live in colonies that can range from just a few individuals to more than 100. Members of the colony communicate through a range of vocalizations.
Chinchillas are herbivores and eat any available vegetation. When eating, they sit upright and hold their food in their forepaws. They prefer grass and seeds but will occasionally eat insects and eggs.
Chinchillas have a long gestation period compared to other rodents of their size. Mothers are pregnant for three to four months, and typically have two litters per year. There are usually two or three in each brood, but there can be as many as six. Young weigh just over one ounce at birth. They nurse for about two months, and then strike out on their own. By eight months old, they are considered adults. Domesticated chinchillas can live for up to 20 years, but a lifespan of 10 years is probably more typical in the wild.
Some of My Neighbors
Andean condor, guanaco, cougar, hawks, skunks, foxes
Population Status & Threats
Hunters have long prized the chinchilla for its thick pelt. In the early 20th century, as many as 500,000 chinchilla skins were exported from Chile annually. As a consequence, chinchilla populations crashed and have yet to recover. Today, in spite of protection measures, the species is considered critically endangered. Ongoing threats include illegal hunting and the destruction of its habitat, caused by livestock grazing, mining, and firewood extraction.
WCS Conservation Efforts
WCS works in the central Andes with local community members to strengthen the management of protected areas and introduce strategies that conserve important wildlife habitat.