The first literature reference to
chinchillas dates back to 1590 in a book published in Seville,
entitled 'Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias', written by Father
Josť de Acosta: (from Spanish) "About mountain animals. Chinchillas
are another type of small animals such as squirrels. They have a fur
(coat) that is of wonderful softness".
One of the first people to think of
breeding chinchillas for profit was the Jesuit priest Juan
Ignacio Molina, who was also the first person to provide an accurate
description of Chinchilla in 1810. There were repeated attempts to
breed these animals in captivity. The first reliable report of
successful breeding attempt in captivity comes from Frederico Albert
(1900), who was director of the zoological and botanical research
station at Santiago, Chile. He reports in his article 'La
Chinchilla' about a certain Francisco Irrazaval in Santiago who had
received a pair of chinchillas in 1895. The first chinchilla was
born that same year and the pair continued to produce 2 litters a
year until the outbreak of an epidemic during the
summer of 1896 ruined this excellent breeding success,
and all the animals, 13 at that
time, died within a period of two months.
By the end of the 19th century,
chinchillas had become quite rare due to hunting for their fur.
Mathias F. Chapman, a mining engineer from California, was working
in Chile in 1918 when he purchased a chinchilla as a pet and took a
liking to it. He envisioned raising a whole herd of
chinchillas and he applied to the Chilean government for permission
to capture and transport several animals to the US. At this
point, chinchillas were already close to extinction from humans
killing them for the fur trade. The Chilean government was
reluctant to grant trapping permission, but Chapman persisted, and
eventually the government allowed him to catch them.
Chapman and a group of men searched
the mountain for three years and caught only eleven chinchillas.
He then took the 12,000 foot climb down over a period of twelve
months so the chinchillas could acclimate to the changing
environment. He then brought the eleven wild chinchillas he
had captured to the United States for breeding, where he started the
first chinchilla farm. Only three of these chinchillas were
female. This was the beginning of the domestic chinchilla.
Since the mid-1960s, chinchillas have become increasingly popular as