On your next visit to the Zoo’s education building, look for two furry mammals — short-tailed chinchillas. The short-tailed chinchilla is about 15 to 17 inches in length, including the tail. The female is typically larger than the male. This chinchilla has soft, thick fur with about 60 fine hairs growing from each follicle. The coat varies from pearl to light gray. The tail itself is about 5 to 6 inches long and is covered in coarse hair.
The chinchilla’s thick fur helps to protect the animal from the cold temperatures of its native habitat of mountain shrubs and grasslands in the Andes mountain range of southern Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina and Chile. The short-tailed chinchilla is herbivorous and will eat the vegetation around it and occasionally will feed on insects. This animal is nocturnal and uses its vibrissae, or whiskers, to help it navigate through the darkness. It will use its whiskers to determine if rock crevices are wide enough to pass through; The animal will only stop forward movement when its whiskers bend.
The short-tailed chinchilla is critically endangered because of unregulated and extensive hunting. According to the IUCN, the species populations are believed to be recovering in some areas as it is now bred easily, which helps reduce a need for hunting and trapping in the wild. But the disappearance of this species in the past has given it its critically endangered listing, until there is further evidence to support a true recovery trend among existing populations in the wild.