Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 84 – The Long-tailed Chinchilla


Long-tailed chinchilla (CR) Chinchilla lanigera

Today is Worldwide Fur Free Friday

When celebrating Worldwide Fur Free Friday, I felt I could not possibly ignore the plight of the long-tailed chinchilla. This little animal has become critically endangered because of man’s actions; a sordid story which can only serve to illustrate, once more, how man’s narcissism and greed has allowed him to put himself before the needs, and, even the most basic rights of, innocent, defenceless beings.

Today there are multitudes of chinchillas kept in captivity, either for the pet trade, for research (specifically the auditory system), or for the fur trade. And, all three are prospering. The fur trade, undoubtedly, being the most despicable of these.

Chinchilla coat for sale on eBay- Farm Raised Genuine (Empress Breeders Cooperative) Chinchilla LanigeraAll wild chinchilla species are listed in  Appendix 1 of CITES.  But, since these captive animals are considered domesticated, they are not protected by CITES provisions (a fact pointed out with tedious regularity by those selling furs on eBay). Furriers and farmers can, therefore, keep breeding, butchering and promoting the wearing of chinchilla as much as they wish. Many, with more money than conscience and compassion, can’t wait to adorn themselves in the poor creatures’ fur; so there is a very willing market waiting in the wings. A market which would far rather wear the chinchilla’s coat as a status symbol or fashion statement than see the rightful owner wearing it as a natural layer (or, one hundred and fifty rightful owners to be precise – that’s how many tiny chinchillas it takes to make a full-length coat). A coat can cost anything between ten thousand and one hundred thousand dollars, so it’s highly profitable.

Apart from depriving these little creatures of a normal life, what desperately needs to be remembered is that there is no easy, pain-free way to skin an animal alive! They are not shearing sheep here!

To quote the obviously caring Natalie Imbruglia, “There is no kind way to rip the skin off animals’ backs. Anyone who wears any fur chinchilla - adultshares the blame for the torture and gruesome deaths of millions of animals each year.”

But, these particular animals have not all been taken from the wild. At least not directly. They are farmed from stock stolen from their natural habitat, mostly in times past. The international trade in chinchilla fur began in the 16th century. However, the chinchillas we see today are almost all descended from chinchillas taken from Chile in the 1800s and early 1900s. This was the cause of depletion, and, sadly, despite efforts, this depletion was so severe, the species has been unable to recover. In two centuries, of vanity and greed, over twenty-one million chinchillas have been taken from their homes; over seven million of these were exported between 1828 and 1916. At one stage they were being shipped from Chile at a rate five hundred thousand per annum. The devastation to the species was unimaginable.

Very young chinchillaIn 1918, the government of Chile, (along with those of Peru and Bolivia) declared the trapping of animals and exportation of pelts illegal; ­ but, it was all too little, too late. Needless to say, this activity did not cease then, and has still not ceased today. Poaching in Chile persists. But, possibly due to much smaller populations now, they are not being taken in such large numbers.

Originally, chinchilla populations flourished within their range.  Now, it is the trade in the animals which thrives, as their pelts continue to be found amongst the most valuable in the world. As a result, these endearing little rodents are now facing extinction in the wild.

Chinchillas are small, just slightly larger than ground squirrels. They have strong legs and can leap around in a very agile manner. They have bushy tails, and soft, silky dense fur. As many as sixty hairs grow from one follicle. The fur was designed by nature to insulate the species against the cold of the barren mountain regions it inhabits.Baby chinchilla Lanigera

Chinchillas sit upright on their hind legs to eat, grasping their food in their front paws. They are social animals living in colonies of up to one hundred individuals (you can see by this how easy it must have been to capture them in large numbers). These colonies are properly referred to as herds, so named by the first fur farmers who treated them as livestock. And, just to add to that trivia; a female is called a velvet or sow, and a male is called either a bull or a boar.

Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, though they have been seen in broad daylight foraging for food. They sleep or rest in rock crevices and holes. They are expected to live up to ten years in the wild, but, can live to as much as twenty years in captivity.

Breeding takes place during May and November. The female will give birth to two litters a year.   The average gestation period lasts one hundred and eleven days,  after which, a litter of between one to three babies (known as kits) will be born. Kits are precocial at birth (fully furred and with eyes open) and weigh about thirty-five grams. They are usually weaned by sixty days.

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.

M. Frida Hartley
(Animal Rights Activist)

Habitat
Barren, arid, rocky or sandy mountainous areas.
Where
Chile
What they eat
Plant leaves (mostly of the cactus family), fruits, seeds, and small insects.
Threats
Human activities; mainly poaching, followed by grazing of livestock, mining and firewood extraction. Their natural predators include birds of prey, skunks, cats, snakes and dogs.
Status: Critically Endangered
The long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.
The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists all chinchilla species in Appendix 1, making international trade in the animals or their skins illegal among participating nations. Frighteningly, there are only 10,000 individuals thought to be left in the wild. There have been attempts to reintroduce chinchillas to the wild, but these have been markedly unsuccessful.
A great deal more could be done to monitor hunting in the remote mountain ranges of the Andes. However, this has proven to be a difficult place to patrol leaving the chinchillas vulnerable.

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Fur Free Friday

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 57 – The Giant Otter


two otters by the river

Photograph from the Karanambu Trust

Description
For decades these adorable otters were hunted for their fine silky pelt. Now, they are suffering from devastating habitat loss. Giant Otters are large, diurnal, extremely active, playful, sociable and very noisy. Despite their evil-looking eyes, they can be very friendly towards human beings; which clearly hasn’t protected them too well.

Giant otters are semi-aquatic land mammals who depend upon both land and water to survive. They can grow to six feet in length and weigh up to seventy-five pounds, making them the largest living otter, next to the sea otter. They have coats of dense velvety fur made up of short, waterproof guard hairs with some under fur. The colour ranges from reddish-brown to grey with irregular chest markings in a pale creamy colour. Some lack these markings. They have short, stubby legs with huge webbed feet. They have broad heads and stocky necks. The tail is dorsoventrally flattened and broad and powerful at the base. Highly adapted for swimming and diving, their sensitive whiskers aid prey location in unclear waters and their ears and nostrils close when entering the water.

They are capable of travelling long distances overland between bodies of water. They build camp sites on the river banks. Vegetation is pounded and trampled into the ground over an area of thirty by twenty feet. Latrines are dug around the perimeter. They maintain several of these camp sites in various locations. The camp sites are the sort of social club where they all gather to groom, play and relax. Dens are dug near the sites for sleeping and rearing cubs. Between the camp site and the dens the otters will have established a home territory which they will defend very aggressively against intruders.

They live in groups of up to ten individuals consisting of an adult pair (they are monogamous) and various generations of offspring.

The gestation period for a giant otter is between sixty-five and seventy days. Females will give birth to up to six cubs between August and early October. The young are altricial, meaning they are born helpless and need a lot of parental care. After four weeks the cub’s eyes will open and they will follow the mother around. After ten weeks the cubs will be able to eat fish, but will still depend on the mother’s milk until they reach at least sixteen or seventeen weeks. They grow quickly, and at ten months it is difficult to tell the cub from the adult. Unfortunately, there is a high juvenile mortality.

The estimated lifespan of a giant otter, in the wild, is ten to thirteen years.

Habitat
Freshwater rivers, swamps, creeks and streams.
Where
Scattered populations exist throughout the rainforests of South America.
What they eat
Fish, crustaceans and snakes, with the odd caiman now and then.  One giant otter will normally consume up to nine pounds of seafood in a day.
Threats
Up until the 1970s, this sleek river mammal was ruthlessly hunted for its silky pelt.   They are friendly creatures by nature, and will approach humans without fear.  This made them easy targets for ruthless, greedy hunters, and the population became decimated. Poaching still continues today on a lesser scale.  But, now there is an even greater threat; that of habitat loss.  Heavily degraded by logging, mining, exploitation of fossil fuels and hydroelectric power, river and land pollution, and over-fishing, their habitat is disappearing rapidly.  And, in some areas, cubs are being taken illegally and sold as pets. They need specialist care, which they are very unlikely to receive, and most will die through lack of it.  They have few natural predators.  Other threats include conflict with fishermen and diseases transmitted by domestic animals.
Status: Endangered
The giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis ) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also listed under  CITES Status: Appendix 1.   Within the next three otter generations, the IUCN predict their numbers will be reduced by half due to accelerating habitat destruction.  No-one knows exactly how many are left in the wild, but an estimation of one to five thousand individuals has been put forward.   There some kept in zoos around the world.   Efforts are being made to help the giant otter by way of education, research, awareness-raising programmes and management of protected areas.

“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”
Edmund Burke