Short-tailed chinchillas are gaining popularity as pets, and this may be a good thing, because their numbers in the wild have declined drastically. Valued for their dense fur since ancient times, chinchillas are still hunted illegally. Conservation efforts are in place, but laws protecting chinchillas in the wild are difficult to enforce since they live in such isolated areas.
Historic Natural Habitat
Before their numbers were decimated by commercial exploitation, short-tailed chinchillas were endemic throughout the Andes of northwest Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. Thanks to poachers who defy conservationist efforts and laws protecting this critically endangered species, short-tailed chinchillas are believed extinct except in Chile, where in 2011, camera traps recorded evidence of two new short-tailed chinchilla colonies.
Short-tailed chinchillas live in colonies of as many as 100 individuals. These nocturnal creatures make their homes in burrows or rocky crevices, and steer clear of open spaces. They prefer arid areas where they can feed on vegetation, though they do eat bird eggs and insects on occasion. Short-tailed chinchillas thrive in either mountain shrub or grasslands, at elevations ranging between 9,800 to 16,400 feet. The fur of short-tailed chinchillas that live at higher elevations is thicker to protect them from the elements.
The short-tailed chinchilla has denser fur and has been more aggressively hunted than its long-tailed cousin. Poaching has decreased the numbers of the short-tailed chinchillas, whereas long-tailed chinchillas are threatened because of both poaching and habitat loss. However, if humans continue to encroach in what little territory still is inhabited by short-tailed chinchillas, it will have a devastating impact on the little numbers of them that remain. Activities such as mining and firewood extraction will affect not only their habitat but also their food and water supply.
Predators and Environmental Changes
Short-tailed chinchillas are nocturnal, but unfortunately for them, so are their predators. Foxes, hawks, owls and skunks hunt the critically endangered species. Also impacting the numbers of short-tailed chinchillas that remain extant are environmental changes that impact their diet. Short-tailed chinchillas have very sensitive gastrointestinal tracts that can be adversely affected by chemical imbalances caused by factors such as contaminated food sources.
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