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Long-tailed chinchillas (Chinchilla lanigera) are native to Chile and are found nowhere else on Earth. They have long erect hairs on upper side of their long tails and large ears. Both their tails and ears aid in cooling body temperature by circulating blood to these areas. They are social animals that can live in large colonies although most are small. Chinchillas live in both savannas and deserts from sea level to the low mountains along the western Andes. Unlike many small mammals, chinchillas reproduce slowly, resulting in slow population growth rates although they can live up to ten years old.

Driven extinct by the fur trade

The long-tailed chinchilla was thought to have been driven to extinction through poaching and habitat loss. They were hunted extensively as demand for their pelts was high; over three million chinchilla pelts and a small number of live animals being exported from Chile between 1895 and 1921. This represents only a small fraction of those caught as most were not exported. However, in the mid-1970’s a small population was discovered allowing a recovery to begin.

Amazingly the long-tailed Chinchilla was only found in the mid-1970s in Chile. At this time Connie Mohlis and Baldamero Pena were instrumental in researching the species. In 1983 the Chilean government set up Las Chinchillas National Reserve which is now listed as a Key Biodiversity Area and is home to half of the world’s population of long-tailed Chinchilla. Outside of Las Chinchillas National Reserve long-tailed Chinchilla live on communal and private lands concentrated in a few locations and this is where we focus.

Today hunting is forbidden, and the animals are protected by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Animals (CITES). Although these animals are protected, their habitat continues to be destroyed. Grazing animals, collection of wood and mining harm these endangered animals’ last known habitat.

Our partners, Save the Wild Chinchillas, started work on the species in 1995 and have been conducting research, restoring habitat and building community support for Chinchilla conservation since then. These efforts have resulted in a drastic increase in the size of chinchilla colonies in two restoration areas.

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Long-tailed chinchilla, Chinchilla à longue queue, IUCN:[VU A1cd], (capt)

Wild Facts
There are two species of Chinchilla; the short-tailed and long-tailed
Live in family groups with mom, dad, and kids living the same burrow
Live in large colonies, but family groups defend their burrow from others

Restoring the Long-tailed Chinchilla

Habitat protection and restoration
We work on communal lands and so the guardians of Chinchilla are the local communities. All our work therefore has to have full community agreement, in fact the conservation is primarily done by the communities themselves. With community agreement on where chinchillas can be allowed to recover, we support the community by improving grazing lands for their livestock outside of the Chinchilla areas.

Members of the local community grow and donate native plants and we further support restoration efforts through purchasing further plants. We work with the communities to plant these native plants in the areas set aside for Chinchilla recovery with seedlings planted near and between colonies. Some species are wind dispersed and so further restoration occurs naturally. Other seedlings receive additional irrigation until they are established and able to grow on their own. While significant process has been made, restoration needs to be conducted on a much larger scale.

Park support
Although most of our efforts are in the communal lands outside of the National Chinchilla Reserve, we support the park in multiple ways. The project is represented on the ‘Consultivo’ for the National Chinchilla Reserve. This is a group of people who brainstorm ideas and activities on how to help the reserve and empower local communities to get involved in conservation. The project has supported the park in analyzing survey data, training rangers on chinchilla surveys, providing reports on Chinchilla populations within the park, and mapping vegetation change over time.

Education and community awareness
Most local herders and miners thought the chinchillas were extinct. Before the project, none had ever seen a chinchilla. Their faces light up with delight at seeing domestic chinchillas. This knowing of the animal is the first step in creating awareness and people changing their actions to help the wild animals.

The project has been teaching students about chinchillas and their habitat since 1997 throughout local communities. With many of these children now grown up community support is now significant. Moreover, our partnership with the local community has strengthened our knowledge on the species as local indigenous knowledge remains strong where the species is still found.

Science
We have conducted studies on the vegetation within colonies, the wild chinchilla behavior, the spatial characteristics of the colonies, and predicting areas where colonies maybe located.

Solutions:

Science:

  • Compile and understand individual life histories for Long-tailed Chinchillas so we can better understand their population demographics.
  • Satellite tracking to try and understand why and where the animals move from and to so we can understand how best to establish new colonies and focus restoration efforts.

Protected Area Management:

  • Purchase or lease the valleys that surround the current reserve to protect the majority of the population.
  • Where colonies are found on private holdings work with the owners to protect the chinchillas.
  • Habitat restoration on a large scale to connect colonies and repair the ecosystem and connect it to other colonies around the reserve.

Endangered Species Management

  • Plant seedlings and scatter seeds as much of the ecosystem has been destroyed by mining and free ranging livestock.

Cultivating Leadership:

  • Teach others about the species and their habitat.
  • Outreach to local herders and miners on the protection of the species and its habitat.

Get The Details

Species Red List StatusPopulationLocation StatusPartners

5,350

Key Biodiversity Area Biodiversity Hotspot

Save the Wild Chinchillas
Tulsa Zoo
ZGAP

Stay Wild. Stay Connected.