Chinchilla means ‘little Chincha’ in Spanish. Chinchillas are named after the Chinchas, a South American Indian tribe.
At the EcoTarium
The EcoTarium is home to two male chinchillas, Chico and Diego. By special appearance: our chinchillas are program animals, so you will not find them on exhibit, but you may see them during our programs.
Chinchillas are squirrel-like rodents native to the Andes Mountains of South America. They live at high altitudes (between 3,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level), where the rocky terrain is very dry. Chinchillas get most of their water from the bark and grasses they eat.
They live in holes in the rock and burrows, which they sometimes share with degus, a rodent similar to the guinea pig. This arrangement works because degus are active during the day while chinchillas are sleeping; chinchillas are most active at dusk and dawn.
Chinchillas live in social groups with about 14 to 100 members. Females give birth to two or three ‘kits’ per litter and may produce two litters in a year. Babies are born with fur and teeth, and with their eyes open.
Chinchillas are known for their soft, dense, gray and black fur, which helps them blend in with the rocky environment. What makes their fur so soft is that it has more than one hair coming from each follicle. Chinchillas were nearly hunted to extinction for this unique and desired fur, and are now protected under the Endangered Species Act. The additional stress of habitat destruction has already driven the Giant Chinchilla to extinction. Today, expensive chinchilla fur coats come from chinchilla farms, not from wild animals. (It takes about 150 animals to make one coat!)