Chinchilla History

Chinchilla history is vague up to the time when the Spaniards traveled to South America in 1524. In South America the Spaniards encountered a tribe of Indians called “Chinchas” who introduced them to the little furry animals. The Chinchas wore the pelts of the little guys and at the same time kept them as pets. The Spaniards named the little furry guys after the Indian tribe as “Chinchillas” – literally “Little Chinchas”. They took pelts back with them to Europe and started the Chin fur business.

Unfortunately, all through recent history, the chinchilla's history has been tied to the fur business. In fact, around the turn of this century (1910 actually) the chinchillas were virtually trapped into extinction. Luckily, the governments of the countries involved banned the trapping of the animals and the sale of the pelts. Although, eventually raising chinchillas on ranches replaced trapping as a source of pelts for the fur market.

The first known chinchilla ranch was founded in Chile in 1874 in Vallenar by John Murry, an English member of the famous scientific expedition “Challenger.” He raised the species known as Brevicaudata. Next was a ranch founded in Santiago, Chile in 1895 by Francisco Irarrazabal. He won a gold medal in 1896 at the Santiago Agricultural Fair (the first chinchilla show). The largest ranch known was the Attahualpa Ranch of Fritz Ferger in the 1930's. At one time the ranch had 1300 Brevicaudatas.

In February 1923 an American mining engineer, Mathias F. Chapman, brought the chins to North America. He was in charge of several mines in the Andes for Anaconda Mines near the town of Potrerillos in northern Chile when, like the Spaniards before him, he was introduced to the chinchilla. He took an immediate liking to the little guys and hoped that he could take a few of them home to California as pets.

The export of chins was illegal, however, he eventually persuaded the authorities to permit him to take eleven chins with him back to the States. Eight male and three female Chinchilla Lanigeras. He brought them down from the mountains and arranged passage on a Japanese freighter. And the story goes, (although this is almost certainly apocryphal) that all the chins in North America are descended from Chapman's.

Chapman Story

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  1. I love chinchillas and now i know so much more because of this web site. Good job keep it up. Don't let me down I am counting on yal.

    • I thought Chinchillas were Peruvian desert animals?

      • they are from the Andes mountains which go through Peru so I'm sure a lot are located in Peru or the Peruvian desert.

      • Chinchillas are from the Andes mountains, but they are not desert animals. Their thick fur is designed for the cold weather in the mountains, and they are highly prone to overheating in temperatures over 75 degrees fahrenheit. Owners of pet chinchillas are required to have air conditioning if they live in areas that have the potential to reach temperatures of 75 degrees or higher. Overheating can happen in a matter of 15 minutes or less with chinchillas, as they are unable to sweat. Their method of cooling is to send blood to their large ears, which are the only part of their body that isn't covered in thick fur. If the air cooling the blood flowing through their ears is higher than 75 degrees, the chinchilla will overheat and could possibly die. Not a useful trait for a desert animal. :)

  2. i am a chinchilla expert and it is not little chincha it is little chinta!! dah!

  3. thanks so much this a lot for my science project at school

  4. Hey! Thanks 'm doing this for A HUGE science project at school. Thanks so much!

  5. I'm doing a project on this for school, and this really helped!


  6. I had 2 chinchillas, both bought back in 1992. The male chinchilla died back in February of 2004 at the age of 12. The female is still alive...........

  7. Thanks so much for the info! I have been wanting to learn about the chinchilla history for a long time! I have 2 chinchillas of my own. I had one but I loved him so much I had to get another! Thanks for your time, Michelle

  8. Hey Dora, I have 2 chinchillas and I love them! They are so adorable! Thank you for your info! I have been wanting to know more about Chinchillas for a long time! Thanks for your time! Michele

  9. this info has been very helpful for me and my friends, thanks a lot. Ferch

  10. I'm doing a project on Chinchillas and i was wondering what you thought would be good for me to incorperate in my project?

  11. I have been trying to find some historical information on Chinchillas in Europe, especially in Poland. I have found some websites that are written in Polish. I found one snippet of info in English saying that chinchilla fur became popular in Europe around that late 1700s. Is there any more to the history than that?

  12. Hi, Dora. Yes, he's a senior. In the wild, life expectancy is 8 years so that's when we consider a chinchilla in captivity to be a senior. Average lifespan in captivity is 10-15 although there are instances where chinchillas have lived into their 20's.

  13. What it a average life expectancy of a pet chinchilla? I have had mine for 14 years and I feel her time is drawing near. Thanks for your time, Dora.

  14. You make a strong case and it looks like you've looked much deeper in to the topic than we have. Looks like it's time to update the page. Thanks for being so thorough in with your explanations.

  15. No, actually, a totally different animal, they just occupy the same Family suborder which happens to be labelled 'Chinchillidae'. Two different animals, same family, DIFFERENT different Genus. Chinchillas do not share the Genus classification with viscachas and that's where the distinction lies, they're in separate Genus' because they're separate animals, that is, further down the scientific classification they're specified as different by having their own Genus.

    The Family 'Chinchilladae' contains two different animals with their own Genus and Species: Lanigera and Brevicaudata are Species under the Genus 'Chinchilla' and Northern Viscacha, Southern Viscacha, Wolffsohn's Viscacha, and Plains Viscacha are Species under the Genus 'Viscacha'. The viscacha Genus and Species info I looked up just now to get those classification details, but most of this is what I know from other resources in doing extensive book and online studies so it's integrated for me now but still based on fact, not a casual observation or conjecture, I value having fact to rely on too. I've seen a couple sites mistake viscachas for chinchillas and I'll be updating my site to reflect the difference and hopefully defuse confusion somewhat, as it is somewhat confusing.

    For pics of wild chinchillas, go here, I'm sure they'd be happy to accommodate you if you requested permission to post: Besides having a more bluish tinge, they're pretty much the standard grays you see today.

  16. The Wikipedia page you pointed to includes this snippet: "The viscacha or vizcacha is a rodent of the chinchilla family Chinchillidae." Obviously different than a domestic chinchilla, but a chinchilla nonetheless, no?

    Thanks for the info on ranching.

  17. The photo on your History page is a Viscacha, not a chinchilla, btw:

    Regarding illegal chinchilla ranches, pelting is still legal in the U.S. although it is no longer profitable and some chinchilla lovers are cooperating with ranchers to ensure that all chinchillas get a home as a cherished pet:

  18. Bob,

    Good question. And we have no idea. Sorry!

  19. Where are all the illegal chinchillas ranches?

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