53.
Short-tailed Chinchilla
(Chinchilla chinchilla)
CR
Overview

Chinchillas are famous for their beautiful bluish-grey fur, which is extremely soft and dense. They have been harvested for this fur and for their meat since ancient times. However, the species was driven to the brink of extinction by commercial exploitation, which began in the early nineteenth century. Both species of chinchilla were trapped, but C. chinchilla was especially sought after because of its higher quality fur and larger size. Its dense, silky fur is considered to be one of the most valuable in the world. Formerly abundant in the Andes, the species is today known only from some individuals captured in 2001. Most recently camera traps have recorded two new populations in Atacama, northern Chile.

Urgent Conservation Actions
Further surveys to establish the location of wild populations of this species.
Distribution
Northern Chile.
Associated Blog Posts
6th Jul 12
Scientists have documented the presence of the short-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) EDGE mammal number 53, in two new areas of the Atacama region ...  Read

15th Mar 11
My name is Maria Eugenia and I come from Bolivia. I decided to study biology because I love wildlife and I want to support its conservation and management. I...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Rodentia
Family: Chinchillidae
The Chinchillidae consists of six species: four viscacha species and two chinchilla species, all of which are endemic to South Amercia. Fossils belonging to this family are known from as long ago as the early Oligocene (38 million years ago). The Chinchillidae are most closely related to the Dinomyidae (pacaranas). In the past only a single chinchilla species was recognized, but most taxonomists agree that differences in colour, size and tail length between different populations indicate that there are two species of chinchilla: Chinchilla chinchilla (short-tailed chinchilla) and C. lanigera (long-tailed chinchilla). The range of these two species may have overlapped in the past, and some interbreeding may have occurred. Male hybrids from the two species are sterile, but females are fertile and may mate with males from either of the species. There are large numbers of chinchillas in captivity today – they are bred for both the fur trade and the pet trade. These chinchillas are distinct from both species and are likely to be a cross between the two.
Description
Size: 
Head and body length: 225-380 mm
Tail length: 75-150 mm
Weight: 400-800 g
Chinchillas are famous for their beautiful bluish-grey fur, which is extremely soft and dense. This is due to the fact that as many as 60 fine hairs grow from each hair follicle. Chinchillas have broad heads, large ears, and large black eyes with vertical slit pupils. Their long hindlegs and short forelegs each end in four digits, with stiff bristles surrounding the weak claws. Besides possessing a shorter tail, the short-tailed chinchilla can be distinguished from its relative the long-tailed chinchilla by its larger, stockier body and smaller ears. In both species, females are generally larger than the males.
Ecology
Chinchillas are most active at dawn and dusk and during the night, although they have occasionally been observed outside of their holes on sunny days. They are thought to live in colonies ranging in size from a few individuals to more than a hundred. The diet consists of any available vegetation. Females give birth to 1-6 young (usually 2 or 3) after a gestation period of around 3-4 months. Newborns are fully furred and have their eyes open. The young are weaned at around 6-8 weeks. Females usually produce two litters annually. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at around the age of 8 months, although this can occur as early as 5.5 months. Lifespan is probably more than 10 years in the wild, although captive individuals have lived for more than 20 years.
Habitat
Found in relatively barren areas of the Andes mountains at elevations of 3,000 to 5,000 m. They shelter in crevices and holes among the rocks.
Distribution

The former range included the Andes of southern Peru, Bolivia, northwestern Argentina and northern Chile. Today the species is known only from a handful of individuals captured in 2001. However, in 2011, camera traps in Nevado Tres Cruces National Park (Atacama region, northern Chile) recorded two new locations of short-tailed chinchilla colonies.

Population Estimate
Unknown, but thought to be very low.
Population Trend
Declining.
Status
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A2cd) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Threats
Chinchillas have been harvested for their fur and meat since ancient times. However, the species was driven to the brink of extinction by commercial exploitation, which began in 1828. The dense, silky fur of the short-tailed chinchilla is considered to be one of the most valuable in the world, and during the nineteenth century millions of chinchilla pelts were exported to the United States, France, England and Germany. As populations declined market prices soared, stimulating increased efforts to capture the chinchillas. Both species of chinchilla were trapped, but C. chinchilla was especially sought after because of its higher quality fur and larger size. Although chinchillas are now protected by law in their natural habitat, enforcement is difficult in the remote areas involved and hunting continues. Populations may also have declined as a result of habitat destruction, particularly though the burning and harvesting of the algarrobilla shrub (Balsamocarpon brevifolium).
Conservation Underway

The species is on Appendix I of CITES, and has been protected by law in Chile since 1929, although, as mentioned above, this law has proved difficult to enforce. Currently, almost all chinchilla fur comes from farmed animals, and recent improvements in the quality of captive chinchilla fur has reduced pressure on the remaining wild populations. However, it is also likely that the commercial breeding activities have stimulated the demand for live wild chinchillas to improve the genetic variability of captive stocks. Indeed, several of the eleven wild short-tailed chinchillas captured in 2001 were transferred to a breeding programme in which they were used to boost the genetic diversity of the captive population. Although there is no specific conservation programme in place for the short-tailed chinchilla, the US-based conservation organisation Save the Wild Chinchillas is focusing on raising awareness of the two chinchilla species, promoting research, and conserving wild populations of the long-tailed chinchilla.

 

As part of a development plan for research of the biodiversity of protected areas of the Atacama Region, administered by the National Forestry Corporation of Chile (CONAF), researchers from the University of Tarapaca in Chile began a detailed survey of flora and fauna in one of Atacama's national parks, Nevado Tres Cruces, in 2011. One of the scientists placed motion-sensitive cameras in a ravine in a ‘Priority Site’, and this picked up photos of a new short-tailed chinchilla colony. A second group was detected farther north in Santa Rosa lagoon, where traces of chinchilla hair had previously been found. The findings will be used to help develop long-term conservation programs in Chile.

Conservation Proposed

Further surveys are needed to establish the location of wild populations of this species. There are unconfirmed reports from the 1970s of the short-tailed chinchilla in the Lauca National Park in Chile and Bolivia from the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve for Andean Fauna. As camera trapping use increases and since the discovery of the chinchilla in two new locations in northern Chile, conservation plans should be adapted to take these into account.

Associated EDGE Community members

Jaime is a Chilean native with broad interests in conservation ecology and ecological studies of Chilean vertebrates

Maria studies the short-tailed chinchilla, and other middle and large sized mammals

Links

Save the Wild Chinchillas
This organisation focuses conservation efforts in habitat preservation and aims to promote the regeneration of degraded habitats by reintroducing native plant species.

 

University of Tarapaca (Chile)

References

Valledares, P., Espinosa, M., Torres, M., Diaz, E., Zeller, N., De La Riva, J., Grimberg, M., & Spotorno, A. 2012. New Record of Chinchilla chinchilla (Rodentia, Chinchillidae) from the Atacama Region, Chile: implications for conservation. Mastozoologia Neotropical 19(1): 173-178    

 

D'elia, G. & Ojeda, R. 2008. Chinchilla chinchilla. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 06 July 2012.

Deane, A. and Riger, P. 2005. Wild chinchilla conservation and education. Animal Keepers’ Forum 32(3): 116-121.
Jiménez, J. E. Jan 2006. (pers comm.).

Jiménez, J. E. 1996. The extirpation and current status of wild chinchillas Chinchilla lanigera and C. brevicaudata. Biological Conservation 77:1-6.

Pearson, O. 1996. Chinchilla brevicaudata. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 09 August 2006.

Save the Wild Chinchillas

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org


Forum comments
  1. chinkiseo20
    Member

    Thank you for another great article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

    Ciplex

    Posted 3 years ago #

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