We have some good news for the gentle, shy long-tailed chinchillas native to the Andes Mountain Range of South America. Friends of Animal (FoA) received a positive 90-day finding on its petition to list the long-tailed chinchilla under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This means the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found FoA’s petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the ESA listing may be warranted, so it will conduct its own status review. An ESA listing would prohibit people from killing chinchillas in the wild or on fur farms or to sell their pelts.

Chinchillas are roughly the size of a small rabbit and are known for their silky, soft, fine fur, which has earned them great popularity with fur traders. But, as FoA’s petition states, hunting chinchillas for their pelts has caused the population in the wild to plummet to near extinction. It was said that it was once possible for a person to see thousands of chinchillas in the course of a day. Now they are only rarely observed in isolated colonies in Chile. 

There are now more chinchillas held in captivity and killed for their pelts than there are in the wild. These chinchillas are not protected and often treated with cruelty. And these chinchillas do not contribute to the survival or preservation of chinchillas in the wild. Actually, the legal commercialization of the animals may actually make matters worse for wild chinchillas. Laundering offers a vehicle to use illegal supplies to satisfy excess demand among legal consumers. Also the availability of legally harvested species may confuse customers by sending a signal this specie is no longer endangered.

According to the Fur Free Alliance, each year the fur industry kills more than 50 million animals for fashion and this doesn't even include rabbits. This is the number of animals slaughtered to make a fur coat: 12-15 lynx; 10-15 wolves or coyotes; 15-20 foxes; 60-80 minks; 27-30 racoons; 10-12 beavers and 60-100 squirrels. It is also estimated that it takes 130-200 chinchilla pelts to make a fur coat.

But the bloody fur industry is not the only threat to long-tailed chinchillas. Other human activities such as cattle and goat grazing, mining, and local firewood collection are destroying the species’ habitat. Expansion of residential housing and the increase in leisure travel and recreation have resulted in a larger amount of people across areas that were once abundant habitat for the long-tailed chinchilla. It is likely that the habitat will continue to be destroyed as Chile has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and is still strongly dependent on natural resources.

Chinchilla are also captured to be sold as pets. Captive life is often detrimental to the wild animals. For example, the altered life environment and diet of chinchilla’s raised in captivity has resulted in dental disorders. Chinchillas are also exploited as research subjects because of their small size and long life span. Chinchillas have been used as models for the study of hearing because they respond to pure tones and they have the same middle-ear anatomy and nervous system connections as humans.

For the status review to be complete and based on the best available scientific and commercial information, USFWS is requesting information on the long-tailed chinchilla from governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other interested parties. They also accept public comments. Comments are due by June 9, 2015. To submit electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal. In the Search box, enter the appropriate docket number (Chinchilla: FWS-HQ-ES-2015-0020) and then click the Search button. You may submit information by clicking on “Comment Now.” Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [Chinchilla: FWS-HQ-ES-2015-0020)]; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls: Church, VA 22041-3803. For information, visit this site.