Module 2.4: Small Mammals Interpreting with Chinchillas

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1 Module 2.4: Small Mammals Interpreting with Chinchillas Interpreting with Chinchillas: The theme of your conversations may differ from group to group depending on the program, and the age of your audience. Examples of different talking points that relate to Zoo themes are listed below. Theme: Humans are part of the rich diversity of life, and have the power to protect or destroy it. Background: Chinchillas are currently listed as an endangered species and were hunted nearly to extinction in the 1900s. They were extensively hunted for their pelts and also collected for the pet trade. 1. Talking point: Sustainable products o Chinchillas are covered in dense fur that protects them from cold temperatures. It is extremely soft and highly valued for fur coats. o The species was nearly hunted to extinction in the 1900s for fur; over 100 pelts are needed to make one coat o Successful domestic breeding has reduced the demand for wild chinchillas and has reduced illegal hunting. Call to action: o Encourage visitors to be conscious about what products they purchase; choose sustainable products that have a minimal impact on wildlife (ex. faux fur or leather products). 2. Talking point: Responsible pet ownership o Chinchillas are frequently seen in pet stores. Despite their cute appearance, they do not make good pets for everybody. They have sharp, continuously growing teeth that can cause injury if bitten. Chinchillas are nocturnal animals; they may make rustling noises throughout the night when people are trying to sleep, and are not awake during the day to interact with people. They have specific care requirements, including a large space, with platforms or perches, toys to chew on, and access to a dust bath. o Over-collection from the wild for the pet trade contributed to the species decline. In addition to chinchillas, several other species, especially reptiles and birds, are greatly affected by the pet trade. o Purchasing exotic pets from responsible breeders helps protect wild populations. 12/20/2016 Interpreting with Chinchillas The Maryland Zoo

2 Module 2.4: Small Mammals Interpreting with Chinchillas Call to action: o Urge visitors to do research before purchasing a new pet. Make sure the animal is coming from a responsible breeder and is not a wild caught individual. Know how to properly care for the animal for the entirety of its life. Theme: Animals have adaptations that help them survive Talking point: Nocturnal Adaptations Possible hooks: Why do you think their whiskers are so long? Why are their ears so large? o Have large, mobile ears to hear predators approaching in the dark o Long, sensitive whiskers help them feel their surroundings o Large eyes help them see in lowlight conditions Call to action: o Look for other nocturnal animals on exhibit at the zoo what adaptations do they have? Do they have large ears too? 12/20/2016 Interpreting with Chinchillas The Maryland Zoo

3 Description: Size: o Body length: 9-15 inches ( mm) o Tail length averaging 3-6 inches ( mm) Weight: o Females: up to 28.2 ounces (800 grams) o Males: up to 17.6 ounces (500 grams) Physical Description: Small, mouse like rodent with a slender body and large ears. Fur is extremely soft and dense. Fur is typically white, brown, grey or bluish on the back, and yellow-white on the underside. Fur on the tail is coarse and bushy towards the end. Sexual dimorphism: Females are typically larger than males Habitat and Range: In the Wild Range: Native to Chile along the foothills of the Andes and coastal mountains, south to Talca Habitat: Lives in barren, rocky, mountainous habitat (elevations of 3,000 to 5,000 meters) Diet: Generally herbivorous: Eat grass, seeds and fruits o Eats insects and bird eggs opportunistically Adaptations: Soft dense fur insulates against the cold of the barren mountainous regions it inhabits Long, strong hind legs and a long tail allows for quick and agile running and jumping Long, sensitive whiskers, large eyes and big ears allow for nocturnal lifestyle Bathe in dust because hair is so dense it would be difficult to dry in the wild in their cold habitat Defense: o Dense fur creates a protective layer around the body it is so thick that a predator may wind up with a tuft of fur instead of a meal. o When trapped, chinchillas may attempt to intimidate a predator by standing up and fluffing their tails to make themselves appear larger. o Use sharp incisor teeth to bite as a last resort Social Structure: Live in colonies of up to 100 individuals Serious fighting in the wild is rare threats are expressed through growling, chattering of teeth and urinating

4 Lifespan: Typically live years Ecosystem relationships: Predators: Foxes, snakes, birds of prey Reproduction: Breeding season: May to November Behavior: o Mostly monogamous o Female chinchillas are the dominant sex and are very aggressive toward one another and toward males during estrus Number of offspring: Females bear 2 litters per year with 1-6 young per litter Gestation: about 4 months, which is relatively long for a small mammal Maturation: Relatively advanced young at birth allows the mother to mate again and bear another litter within the year o Young are born with a full coat of fur and open eyes. o Not much parental care required o Time to weaning is about 2 months o Sexual maturity in both sexes occurs on average at 8 months but may occur as early as 5.5 months females have their first litter at an average age of about 1 year 3 months Activity: Nocturnal Other fun facts : While eating, chinchillas sit upright on their hind legs and hold their food with their front paws Like all rodents, chinchilla incisor teeth grow continuously Chinchilla fur is incredibly dense: as many as 60 hairs grow out of each follicle (compared to humans who have 1 hair growing out of each follicle) Conservation Status and Threats: Listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered o Previously thought to be extinct in the 1960s but has since been rediscovered in the wild. o The species is suspected to be recovering in some areas as successful domestic breeding has helped reduce illegal hunting and trapping in the wild. Protected by CITES Appendix 1 since 1977, which permits the trade of chinchillas only in exceptional circumstances

5 Threats: o Was once extensively hunted for their fur in the 1900s Around this time about 500,000 chinchilla skins were exported from Chile annually Considered to be one of the most valuable pelts in the world Over 100 chinchilla pelts are needed for one fur coat o Collection from the wild for the pet trade o Habitat is threatened by overgrazing of cattle, mining and firewood extraction o Mining near chinchilla colonies is currently their most major threat Reintroduction attempts have been unsuccessful o Possibly because the current numbers are below the minimum population viability size for long-term survival o Predation by foxes has increased At the Zoo Yum Yum (dark grey) and Snow Queen (white) were donated to the zoo from a private owner in Yum Yum (mother) was born in 2003 and Snow Queen (daughter) was born in What We Can Do Do your research before buying a pet o Make sure you are not purchasing a wild-caught individual o Captive-bred species are often easy to find Opt for fake fur over real fur when buying coats and other clothing and accessories o All of our shopping choices can have an impact on the environment and wildlife so when available opt for recycled and local products o Research responsible companies that do not use animal based products or testing Additional Resources and References: Animal Diversity Web: html IUCN Red List: National Zoo: Arkive: MacDonald, D., & Norris, S. (Ed.). (2001). Other Cavy-like Rodents. The encyclopedia of mammals. (1 ed., Vol. 1, pp ). Oxfordshire, United Kingdom: Andromeda Oxford Ltd.

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