A ROMANTIC HISTORY
The Chinchilla has been internationally prized for its luxuriously soft fur since shortly after the conquest and occupation of Spanish America. There, on the dry slopes of the Andes in Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, they flourished in the wild state. Chinchilla got its name from the Chincha Indians who used the Chinchilla for food and clothing.
During the 15th Century a tribe of Indians, the Chinchas, had hunted and trapped this tiny animal subsisting on the meat and using the skins to sleep on. They also wore robes woven from the plucked fur. So the Spaniards called this all important little animal Chinchilla after the Chinchas.
In time the Chinchas were conquered by the mighty Inca Indians. Under Inca rule the Chinchas were forbidden to wear the Chinchilla robes. They immediately became the fur of the Inca Royalty and adorned only those Incas who were of noble birth.
In the 16th Century the Incas were, in turn, conquered by the Spaniards who demanded great tributes for their queen. A story is told of one emissary who, seeking to win favor sent his queen a strong box filled with jewels and gold plate. For protection he wrapped the box in a Chinchilla robe that he had taken from an Inca Chief.
The messenger, however, who was dispatched to the queen stole the jewels and gold plate and sent the queen only the box into which he had stuffed the Chinchilla robe. He then fled. So delighted was the queen with this exquisite fur that she had the messenger found and brought to court. Instead of torture and death as he expected, the messenger was knighted as a token of her appreciation for such a rare and exquisite fur, more beautiful and luxurious than any she had ever seen before.
Thus was Chinchilla introduced to the civilized world – every woman in Spain longed for fur such as the queen wore. Never had they seen a fur so soft, so light, of such delicate blue-gray tones, with such subtle, almost iridescent shading. It was a never ending source of fascination and envy to all who were fortunate enough to see Chinchilla.
So great was the demand that the Spaniards in South American sought for Chinchillas with the same zeal that they searched for gold and precious stones. The demand continued to grow faster than the supply as news of this rare and lovely fur spread over Europe.
Mining ventures called the British to the Andes and, longing for their native sport, they sent to England for red foxes which they turned loose in Chinchilla’s native habitat. On weekends the English hunted the fox, and every day and night during the week the fox hunted the Chinchilla.
Between the demand for the fur and the predator fox, the Chinchilla was reduced to near extinction by the turn of the century.
In 1918 the governments of Chile, Peru and Bolivia outlawed the exportation of pelts and prohibited trapping – but the harm was already done.
In 1918 Mathias F. Chapman, a mining engineer in Chile, became acquainted with this priceless fur-bearer. One day an Indian trapper brought one of the precious animals to the mining camp. Chapman, realizing the inestimable worth of Chinchilla, and being shocked at the destruction of the Chinchilla population, became fascinated with the idea of trapping enough animals alive so that he might bring them to the United States and raise them in captivity as the one and only means of actually saving the species.
His associates knew that the Chinchilla was practically extinct in the wilds and that all efforts to domesticate them had failed, so when Chapman actually set about his plan to rescue the Chinchilla, they thought him mad. He hired several Indian trappers and promised them much gold for every ‘blue’ Chinchilla they brought to him alive.
At last, after four years with as many as 23 Indians covering the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, a small number of these precious animals were accumulated. Eleven of these animals reached the United States and they can truly be called the ‘founding fathers’ of today’s Chinchilla population.
Since 1923 when the first eleven animals were imported to the United States, the Chinchilla industry has grown from a wild promotional game to a sound, profitable business. As late as the early 1950’s breeding pairs sold for thousands of dollars. The true value of chinchilla could not be set because the pelt market had not been established. The term quality meant very little.
But even during this speculative period, men with practical vision could see a great future for the Chinchillas industry. These men recognized the potential market for Chinchilla pelts. They formed organizations for creating a market for Chinchilla pelts.
They first adopted standards to upgrade the quality of pelts. An advertising and promotion plan was soon put into effect proclaiming these quality pelts. Breeders thus found raising Chinchilla a profitable venture. Today the Chinchilla industry is still thriving.
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