The chinchilla, Chinchilla laniger, is a native of South America Andes, mostly from northern Chile. The natural habitat is the rather barren mountain slopes between 3000-6000 meters. They shelter in crevices and holes during the day being basically crepuscular and nocturnal, and eat any available vegetation. In former times, they lived in large gregarious colonies of up to 100 individuals, but they have been hunted for their pelts to the point of near extinction. Attempts have been made to reintroduce chinchillas into the wild but have been unsuccessful.

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Chinchillas as Pets

Chinchillas were first bred in captivity in the late 19th century and today there are probably millions of chinchillas in captivity, although the majority are kept as fur producers. The chinchilla makes a good pet. They are not aggressive and only bite if really pushed to their limits. They are intelligent and easy to train, especially with food rewards. They have a well developed sense of hearing and see well with their large eyes (meant for night vision). They must have “chinchilla dust” available for daily dust baths for good coat condition. They come in a variety of colors through selective breeding programs. One warning, chinchillas can project their urine 2-3 feet with good accuracy.

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Commercial chinchilla cages are available with multiple levels, and commercial chinchilla chow/food is available (make sure it is fresh). Always have water available.

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Life Span

Life span of the average chinchilla is 15 years. They weigh 1 1/2 -2 pounds as adults and are born fully haired in litters of 1-4 babies.

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