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chinchilla(chĭnchĭl`ə), small burrowing rodent of South America. It lives in colonies at high altitudes (up to 15,000 ft/4,270 m) in the Andes of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. One of the costliest of all furs, its soft gray pelt has been valued since the days of the Inca. The wild chinchilla was nearly exterminated before protective laws were passed. At one time over 200,000 pelts were exported from Chile. Wild chinchilla coats have cost as much as $100,000. Chinchillas are now raised on farms in South America and the United States, and this has resulted in lower prices for the skins, which are still considered among the most valuable. Chinchillas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Chinchillidae.
a genus of rodents of the family Chinchillidae. The body length is 22–38 cm, and the tail length 7–15 cm. The head and eyes are large, the ears orbicular (5–6 cm), and the whiskers long. The four-toed hind legs are twice as long as the five-toed fore legs. There are 20 teeth, including 16 molars that grow throughout the animal’s life. The soft, thick fur reaches 3 cm in length. The coloration is white on the abdomen and blue-gray with dark overtones on the back and sides. Seasonal and sexual dimorphism is absent. There are two species—the long-tailed (C. laniger) and the short-tailed (C. brevicaudata).
Chinchillas are found in the arid mountainous regions of the Chilean, Peruvian, Bolivian, and Argentinian Andes. They live in colonies in crevices of cliffs; they are nocturnal throughout the year. Chinchillas feed on grasses, shrubs, and cacti. One to three litters are produced yearly, with an average of two young in each (a litter may contain one to six young).
By the early 20th century chinchillas had almost been hunted to extinction for their valuable fur. The animals are now protected by law and bred in small numbers on farms in many countries. In the USSR chinchillas have been bred since 1960 on the test farm of the All-Union Research Institute of Hunting and Fur Farming near Kirov; the animals are also being raised by amateur breeders in 40 oblasts. Experiments on acclimatizing the animals in the Pamirs and Transcaucasia are in progress.
I. B. KIRIS