Chinchillas are members of the rodent family originating from South America. They are nocturnal animals, who live together in large communities. They live in the rocky terrain of the Andes of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Their natural habitat is inhospitable to humans; comprising of rocks and caves, and generally barren, thorny areas.
They can live upto altitudes of 5000m, where there is little humidity, and great variences in temperature between night and day. Their fur protects them against these extremes in temperature. They often have to travel great distances to water, as there can be several months without rain. They are dependant on morning dew, cacti, and fruits to satisfy their liquid intake.
Chinchilla's soft fur has made themvictims of the fur-trade. The South American natives had been using them for this purpose for centuries. In the 1500's Spanish explorers were so impressed they introduced Chinchilla fur to the rest of Europe. The popularity of Chinchilla fur garments almost led to their extinction.
In the early 20th century, the first Chinchillas were taken into captivity by Mathias Chapman. He started the first herd, and started to intergrate them into a domestic lifestyle. He began breeding and developoing the Chinchilla that we know today.
The Chinchilla has changed greatly throughout the years, as the breeding programmes have been designed to make a more acceptable pet. The numerous colour variations and hybrids that have developed throughout the 20th century are an example of this.