Geographical Range Chile (in South America)
Habitat Rocky mountain areas
Scientific Name Chinchilla lanigera
Conservation Status Common

If they gave an award for softest fur, chinchillas would probably win. These South American rodents need their dense, thick coat to survive in the cold climate of the Andes Mountains.

Chinchillas live in small groups. They stay hidden in rock crevices during the day and come out at night to search for plants to eat.

Since the time of the ancient Incas, chinchillas have been hunted for their luxurious fur. By the 20th century, however, the numbers of wild chinchillas had declined severely. Although the species is now protected by law in its native habitat, hunting still continues. Some scientists believe the wild chinchilla is nearly extinct.

The species thrives in captivity, however, bred on farms to provide pelts for the fur industry. A chinchilla pelt is considered the most valuable pelt in the world, considering the animal's size and weight.

Attempts to add captive-bred chinchillas to wild populations have failed. Apparently, decades of selective breeding for the fur trade have changed the species so much that individuals can no longer survive in the wild.