The Endangered – Chinchilla


by Fernando Aguilar, Youth Manager

Many people choose to keep Chinchillas as pets even though they are expensive and a big commitment; but they’re so much more than that.  While many Chinchilla owners think of them as domestic pets, they are an important part of their native ecosystem and, unfortunately, they are critically endangered. It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of Chinchillas left in the wild, but scientists know that this rodent population has dropped 90% in the last 15 years. These usually nocturnal creatures can grow to be about the size of a small rabbit and can shift the balance of an entire ecosystem so it is crucial that they be protected.

Why they are important: Surprisingly, Chinchillas are the key to stopping deforestation. When poachers hunt Chinchillas they often cause destruction of the natural habitat they are found in.  Preventing poaching prevents deforestation.  Chinchillas also play a vital part in their mountain habitats.  They provide food for the wild foxes and birds and help spread plant seeds when they ingest the fruit they are found in.

What is the problem: Of the 90% decrease in the Chinchilla population in the last 15 years 70% of those were victims of hunting.  While Chinchillas are classified as critically endangered and are being protected by conservation groups, poachers continue to target the small, social animal.

Why they are going extinct: Chinchillas are hunted for their fur, which is used to make expensive coats and hats.  The global demand for their pelts supports the illegal poaching of these animals in the Andes Mountains of South America.  As if poaching wasn’t enough of a problem, deforestation in the area, caused by farming and logging is ruining the Chinchilla’s natural habitat.

How we can help: To save these AMAZING animals you can:

  1. Refrain from buying any items with Chinchilla fur (jackets, hats, scarves, etc.).
  2. Support groups that aim to protect wild Chinchilla conservation.
  3. If you decide to adopt a Chinchilla as a pet, make sure it was bred in the United States, not exported from South America.

Want more of The Endangered? Check out the growing list of articles on our Wildlife page.

To empower young people to be environmental leaders