Chinchillas are caviomorph rodents, which once roamed South America from the sea to the Andes. Chinchilla chinchilla (brevicaudata), short tailed chinchillas, were hunted severely and are endangered. It's native range included the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Believed extinct, it is known to now exist in the wild in Bolivia and Chile. Long-tailed chinchillas, C. lanigera, are endangered. It's native extent is only north-central Chile (Jimenez 1996). Chinchillas are endangered due to hunting and trapping for pelts. Between 1895 and 1921, over three million pelts including a small number of live animals were exported from Chile. Some authors report that more then 21 million chinchillas were actually killed between 1840 and 1916 and only a fraction of those caught were able to be exported (1996). Upon rediscovery of wild C. lanigera during the mid-1970's a series of studies on these endangered rodent populations have tried to understand chinchillas, their habitat and populations which continue to decline. Less than half of the wild long-tailed population is located within a fenced reserve. About 5,000 individuals are located on private land. Excessive hunting greatly reduced the number of wild chinchillas. Today hunting is forbidden and animals are protected by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Animals (CITES). Although chinchillas are protected, habitat continues to be destroyed by grazing animals, collection of wood and mining.
Connie Mohlis and Baldomero Pena studied the wild ones in Auco in the 1970's.