Chinchillas in the Wild
Chinchillas live in rocky places in the Andes mountains at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 16,500 feet. Their habitat used to stretch across Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. And as you might imagine, this mountain terrain is barren, full of thorny shrubs, and made up of large rocks with various gaps and crevices.
Water is scarce, humidity is low, and it rarely rains so wild chinchillas must rely on morning dew for a drink. Some cacti and the cacti fruit they feed on also provide some water. Their quest for food starts at dusk and continues through to the early morning. When the sun rises, wild chinchillas retreat to their underground dens. These dens are often in and around the cardon plant, but sometimes also in and around rocks.
Because of the potentially low temperatures that wild chinchillas must endure, their thick fur is necessary for their survival. Their fur also helps reduces evaporation.
As a direct result of excessive exports for the fur trade, the wild chinchilla population has been decimated. They are now found only in central Chile and they have been marked as an endangered species. Sadly, even though hunting chinchillas and exporting their pelts is illegal, their numbers in the wild continue to decrease. Biologists speculate that this continuing decline is likely due to continued expansion of land use for mining, wood collection, and livestock grazing. Chinchillas must also contend with natural predators such as foxes, eagles, and hawks.