If you own a pet chinchilla, the last thing you would want to do is neglect it or treat it badly. But this is what some people accuse fur farms of doing to chinchillas.
Do they kill chinchillas for their fur? Yes: chinchillas are not shaved or plucked, but are killed, and their pelts taken and processed into clothing. This is done on a chinchilla fur farm, of which there are hundreds across Europe and the U.S., and around the world. Chinchillas were first domesticated for this purpose.
The guide below will first explore the use of chinchilla fur, and why chinchillas have to be killed for it. It will then address the facts of chinchilla fur farming, and whether it’s cruel or not.
Are Chinchillas Killed for Their Fur?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. Fur-bearing chinchillas aren’t shaved or plucked for their fur. The animal is killed and skinned. Its pelt (the skin and hair/fur detached from the body) is then processed and turned into fashion accessories or clothing.
Chinchillas are one of many animals used for fur. Some animals provide large pelts, and only one or two are required to make an item of clothing. But because chinchillas are small, hundreds of pelts are needed to create larger clothing like coats. The animals are kept in farms and bred for profit. Independent chinchilla farms exist across the United States and western Europe.
The chinchilla cannot be shaved or plucked for its fur because if it were, its fur would be useless. The fur has to be attached to the skin for it to be useful for clothing and accessories. If it were shaved, it would have to be re-adhered to a surface, from which it would more easily be detached than from skin. So for both convenience and quality, the entire pelt (skin included) is used.
What Is Chinchilla Fur Used For?
Chinchilla fur is used for fashion. It’s easily the softest fur available from any animal, which means it’s used for clothes. It’s typically used for jackets and longer coats, but you may also see it used as trim for accessories or coats that aren’t otherwise made of fur. It may also be used only for the lining of a jacket or coat rather than the entire coat.
Why Is Chinchilla Fur So Expensive?
Chinchilla fur is expensive because demand exceeds supply. People are prepared to pay vast sums for chinchilla fur clothing and accessories, so that’s what manufacturers sell them for. It’s also because:
- Production of fur has gone down overall
- Chinchilla fur has the reputation of being the softest of all furs
- Chinchillas cannot be caught in the wild, and there aren’t many chinchilla farms
- Chinchillas are small, so many pelts are needed to make one garment
- Chinchillas take a long time to breed (110-120 day gestation period, 18 months until fully grown)
- Chinchillas have more stringent care needs than other fur bearing animals
Pressure from anti-fur pressure groups has also led to fewer shops stocking fur of any kind. In turn, this has meant fewer breeders can make a living from selling fur. Whether the industry is in ‘decline’, or has simply focused on delivering high end products rather than mass production, is a point of contention.
History of Chinchilla Fur Trapping
Human beings have lived in Peru and Chile for at least 10,000 years. The first evidence of people is of the Chinchorro culture, who are known for their mummies, which date back to at least 7000BC. It’s possible that these people ate chinchillas; a book published by UNESCO suggests that they ate rodents alongside their main diet of fish.
These were followed by later cultures, such as the Nazca and Wankarani, although it seems that these people didn’t trap chinchillas for fur either.
Rather, it’s likely that wild chinchillas thrived at this time, inhabiting the semi-arid and arid environment around the Atacama Desert. At this time, no people could survive here, as there is so little water; instead, they stayed in villages and towns around the coast.
It was only later that people came to inhabit these inland areas, and in much more modern times that the chinchilla was nearly hunted to extinction.
Chincha Culture and Chinchillas
The Chincha were a fascinating pre-Columbian culture known for many things. In the 11th century, they migrated to southwestern Peru, likely from the highlands to the north (where Machu Picchu is today, although it wasn’t there then). Nothing is known about them before this.
Before the Chinchia, the peoples of the Peruvian coast relied on fish. The earlier Chinchorro peoples’ diet, for example, was around 80% raw fish. But the Chincha knew how to farm, which allowed them to settle further inland. This could explain why the Chincha were the first to definitely trap chinchillas for their fur.
The Colonial Period
It was contact with Europe which led to the near extinction of the chinchilla. Due to the extraordinary softness of their fur, chinchilla pelts becamse popular among European nobility and royalty. It was particularly used for lining and trimming robes, something which was usually done with ermine (stoat) fur.
It was this that cemented chinchilla fur’s reputation as the very best available. But it was a long time before production could become industrialized and chinchilla fur become more widely available. An individual trapper would hunt and skin each chinchilla; it was only later that many trappers descended on the area.
The Modern Era
It was from the 1800s onwards that the numbers of chinchillas killed for fur spiralled out of control. Between 1828 and 1916, an estimated 7,179,640 pelts were exported from Chile. These were made into fur coats, scarves and other accessories. Fur clothing was very popular during this period, and chinchilla fur was better than any other kind.
By the year 1900, much of the damage to the wild chinchilal population was done. But trapping continued nonetheless. An estimated two million pelts were exported between 1895 and 1900 alone. Half a million were exported per year between 1900 and 1910; clearly, the fact that chinchillas were disappearing was not reason enough for people to stop.
What made the process particularly wasteful was that most of the chinchillas trapped did not have suitable fur for a pelt. This was either because of the way it was caught, or that the quality of its fur was not good enough. Trappers hunted in many different ways, one of which was a simple fall trap (where a large rock would fall on the chinchilla), which explains why the pelt could be damaged e.g. with blood. This waste resulted in both long tailed and short tailed chinchillas nearing extinction early in the 20th century.
It’s thought that at least 21 million chinchillas died for the 7,179,640 pelts exported between 1828 and 1916.
Unfortunately, these animals were given no respite, as due to their scarcity the cost of their pelts became even higher. This encouraged further hunting before farming gradually supplanted trapping as a means of acquiring their pelts.
In 1910, Chile and Peru signed an agreement to prohibit the capture, trade and export of chinchillas. This was a pointless measure which was made too late, as there were hardly any chinchillas left to protect. Chinchilla populations have still not recovered.
Modern Chinchilla Farming
Today’s chinchillas are not trapped, but farmed. The first chinchillas taken from the wild were kept for the purpose of farming and profit, and it was only decades after they were first domesticated that they were kept as pets. A man called Matthias Chapman negotiated with local governments to export a dozen chinchillas to the U.S. Both pet and farm chinchillas are all descended from this small handful of animals.
In the early 1900s, a gap in the market existed because the wild chinchilla was hunted almost to extinction. This gap was filled by private farmers who made large profits, starting with only a few chinchillas, and breeding more. This tradition has continued until today, with most production occurring in Europe, but with farms present across the world.
Proponents of farming insist that the chinchillas are kept in good conditions, as this ensures that their pelts are in a good condition too. People who disagree with farming chinchillas for fur say that despite the majority of farms meeting regulations, the regulations themselves aren’t strict enough, and that the practice should be stopped.
Why Did People Hunt Chinchillas?
The pre-Columbian people of the Americas had good reason to hunt chinchillas: for food or for the warmth of their furs. Before the modern age, the people of the region could hunt chinchillas without pushing them to the brink of extinction.
But the possibility of export after contact with the Western world put too much pressure on the chinchilla population.
How Many Chinchillas Are Killed Each Year?
Today, the trapping of wild chinchillas is banned. That’s why no pet chinchillas were caught from the wild (instead being bred in captivity from lineages that have been pets for a hundred years). As such, no chinchillas are killed for export, although some may still be trapped for local use.
Instead, today’s chinchillas are raised in farms. This led to a boom in chinchilla farms in the United States, which were populated by Chapman’s stock. A piece from 1946 in Popular Mechanics stated that the number of herds kept had grown to 300 from only a dozen a decade before. It’s farms like these which are responsible for the chinchilla fur trade today.
There are 800 or so chinchilla farms across Europe, and a similar number across the United States. How many chinchillas these farms process each year isn’t a matter of record, so unfortunately, there is no clear answer.
As for how many wild chinchillas are killed, that isn’t known either. It seems that wild populations may still be in decline.
Chinchilla Fur Farm Facts
The idea of farming chinchillas for fur is a controversial one among owners and breeders. That’s because people who keep chinchillas as pets will bond with them and treat them with care. These people see the practice of farming chinchillas as akin to the idea of farming dogs or cats. Proponents of chinchilla farming say that the animals are kept in good conditions and don’t suffer.
As such, it’s important to stick to the facts to understand the issue.
How Are Chinchillas Killed for Fur?
There are three main ways in which chinchillas are killed on farms. The first is via ‘cervical dislocation’, a more scientific term for breaking the neck. This is a commonly performed procedure on farms of many different animals, but is often used for fur-bearing animals as it doesn’t damage the coat. The neck is pulled away from the body and twisted in such a way that the spine is broken.
The second common method is that of gassing, e.g. with carbon monoxide. The animal is placed inside a chamber which is filled with gas.
The third method is electrocution. One electrode is attached to one of the chinchilla’s ears, while another is attached to the base of the tail/the genitals or anus. An electrical current is passed through the chinchilla. Sources state that this is supposed to result in immediate loss of consciousness or death, although this may not necessarily be the case.
These three methods are used across the Western world, including the United States and Canada, as well as Europe. Certain states have banned one or more of them; New York has banned electrocution, for example, while California has banned gassing, both due to fears of cruelty and unnecessary suffering. There are also calls to ban fur farming at the federal level.
Furthermore, many fur farms are not in countries with stringent legislation, such as South America, Hungary and Russia. This means that the welfare of animals in these farms is not guaranteed.
Are Chinchilla Fur Farms Cruel?
A common argument made in favor of fur farms is that they have a vested interest in treating their animals well. The better the animal is treated, the better condition its fur will be in when it is killed. However, theory doesn’t always relate to practice. The Endangered Species Handbook states:
In 1994, films of genital electrocution taken on chinchilla farms resulted in a Sonoma Valley, California, farm being charged with cruelty to animals. Prosecutors documented that, according to veterinarians, the animals suffer during this process, in which the chinchilla is held upside down by the tail and electrodes are placed in the ear and in the anal canal or penis; a switch is then pulled to electrocute.
The regulation-approved practice of gassing is also a controversial one. While ideally the animal would be rendered unconscious immediately, this isn’t necessarily the case. Carbon monoxide puts the animal to sleep and kills it without choking. But the similarly-legal method of using carbon dioxide does not, and the chinchilla will struggle while it is asphyxiated (as any animal would).
Also, for a chinchilla farm to be profitable, it needs to house many chinchillas: dozens or even hundreds. That’s because chinchillas reproduce and grow slowly, so to make a living from breeding them, you need lots of them. This means that the breeder can’t spend lots of time with each chinchilla and see whether it’s sick or hurt as you would with a pet.
This is shown in how farm chinchillas are kept. A typical setup is to keep the chinchillas in elevated cages with wire bottoms, which chinchillas can hurt their feet in. Underneath the cages is a conveyer belt which takes away any waste that falls down. This means that the breeder doesn’t have to constantly clean their chinchilla cages. Not all farmers keep their chinchillas this way, as some do have solid bottom cages. But this is viewed as a large amount of work for little gain.
As for whether you consider this ‘cruelty’, neglect, or something else, is up to you. But if you wouldn’t keep your pets in this way, there’s no reason to keep farmed animals that way.
How Many Chinchillas Are Killed to Make a Coat?
Part of the reason why chinchillas nearly went extinct is that they’re small. Other fur-bearing animals are large, so one pelt can go a long way to making a full coat. But in the case of chinchillas, a hundred may be needed, depending on the size of the garment. Coupled with the wastage created by improper trapping practices meant that three hundred or more chinchillas may have had to die for one coat.
As today’s chinchillas are farmed, there’s less waste involved. But nevertheless, it still takes many chinchillas to make only one item of clothing.
The truth is that if animals like dogs or cats were treated in the way that fur-bearing animals such as chinchillas were, there would be national uproar. As any chinchilla owner knows, their pets have personality and emotion: they can be happy or unhappy, stressed or calm, comfortable or uncomfortable just like other pets. They can most definitely feel pain. As such, there’s no justification for treating chinchillas in such a way other than the value of their fur—which is not reason enough.
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