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Chinchilla Chinchilla laniger

This gentle, timid and intelligent rodent originates from the mountainous Andean region of South America where it occupies a habitat similar to the marmots of Europe and North America. They live in burrows and crevices amongst the rocks on very steep cliffs and mountainsides, where they can maintain a keen watch for predators, mainly hawks and eagles.

The famous fur of the chinchilla nearly resulted in its extinction for the fur trade but, fortunately, the animal is a ready breeder in captivity. Unlike most Old World rodents, usually only one youngster is born. These develop quickly and soon become independent. Chinchillas must have access to a dust bath of Fuller's earth for at least ten minutes every day, and will roll and kick in this with every evidence of intense enjoyment. Without this dust bath the fur becomes dull and greasy.

Chinchillas live for quite a long time; 12-15 years being not unusual. Many colour varieties have been bred as a result of their long history in captivity and their extreme commercial importance. Normally they live in pairs, thinly scattered across the rocky slopes together with their one, occasionally two, young of that period. In captivity 'polygamy' is practised, with one male having access to several females - and this has increased productivity considerably, though this is not a consideration for zoos, where a natural lifestyle is aimed for.

Chinchillas as Pets

Chinchillas make interesting pets, perhaps a step or two up in the ambition ratings from pet rabbits. These gentle, timid and intelligent animals of the rodent family originate from the Andes region of South America.

They are one of the cleanest rodents to keep as their droppings are dry and give off virtually no odour. They live for quite a long time - eight to ten years - with some continuing well past 15 years.
They are agile, can climb and can gnaw. They are relatively inexpensive, costing 70 each upwards, with a custom-built cage costing a similar amount.
You can save yourself a lot of money by building your own cage. Buy some weld mesh and lace four panels together with thin, tying wire to form a long, rectangular tunnel.
Block off each end with a panel of weld mesh, which will also add stability. Hang the whole contraption on strong hooks on the wall to form what is known in the business as a suspended cage and arrange a tray or some sheets of newspaper below it to catch any droppings.
With some wooden ledges and branches inside, and a heavy-duty nest box - complete with sliding door so you can trap the animal in on occasion - hanging on the outside, you are ready to roll at a fraction of the cost of a commercial product.
The cage must be suspended and that stops the weight being concentrated on the floor. It is also easier to clean.
The other major advantage is that you can make it any size to suit yourself and your room.
Chinchillas, as most pet owners know, must be provided with a tray of "fullers" to dustbathe in.
This stops their wonderful fur becoming greasy and matted for chinchillas have been known to sicken and die when deprived over a lengthy period of the opportunity to dust-bathe.

DEGU Octodon degus

If you want an unusual pet why not consider the Degu. Although it's a rather rat-like creature in size and colour, it is anything but rat-like in behaviour and temperament.

Genetically it closely resembles a smal chinchilla and comes from the same part of the world in South America.

Vocally, it squeaks like a guinea pig. Now that colour varieties are being produced, the rat-like agouti colouring should soon be eclipsed by creams and fawns.

The breed readily, and like to live in pairs and small family groups

You can see the Degus in the Aztec and Inca display.

National Chinchilla Society

For advice on the care of chinchillas we suggest you contact:

The Hon. Secretary, The National Chinchilla Society, 106 Moss Lane, Maghull, Liverpool, L31 9AQ, or Tel: 0151-526-2577.