The chinchilla is a soft-furred, robust rodent endemic to the Andes mountains. These beautiful creatures are valued as pets and fur-animals because of their luxurious, velvet-like coats. Many chinchilla owners are unaware of the plight of these beautiful animals. Wild chinchillas are now considered to be “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN.
Wild chinchilla populations have declined by an alarming 90% in the past 15 years. They face imminent danger and are likely to become extinct in the wild within a decade.
Why Chinchillas are Endangered
Wild chinchilla populations have been threatened for centuries by human activity. The species’ original population was nearly exterminated due to poaching, hunting, habitat destruction, competition from cattle and goats, strip-mining activities, and deforestation for firewood extraction. Since the 1920s, chinchillas have been protected by legal measures, but their populations continue to decline.
Why the Threat Continues
Unfortunately, actions to protect chinchillas have failed, and they are more likely than ever to become extinct. The IUCN suggests that the wild chinchilla population may be too small to naturally repopulate, even with protection measurse in place. Illegal poaching for the fur trade also plays a role in the chinchilla’s continued decline. Additionally, foxes now hunt chinchillas more than they have in the past; this change may be either natural or anthropogenic.
What about Fur Coats?
Almost all chinchilla furs are now collected from captive-bred chinchillas, so the fur industry no longer play a major role in the decline of wild chinchilla populations. However, some poachers do continue to hunt chinchillas, and this does affect the species’ ability to recover from being endangered. If you buy chinchilla fur, you are not contributing to the endangerment of the species. However, most environmentalists agree that the fur industry is inherently unsustainable and inhumane.
What about Pet Chinchillas?
If you own a pet chinchilla, there is good news– you are actually helping, not hurting, this endangered species. Pet chinchillas are exclusively captive-bred and are not captured from the wild. And, although pet chinchillas can not be re-released into the wild, you are helping to support the continued captive-breeding and protection of chinchillas and other endangered species. As a chinchilla owner, you should make efforts to spread awareness about the plight of the wild chinchilla. Do your pet’s wild cousins a favor by supporting the protection of endangered chinchillas.