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Chinchillas are crepuscular rodents, slightly larger and more robust than ground squirrels, native to the Andes mountains in South America. They live in colonies at high altitudes (up to 15,000 ft/4,270 m). Historically, they lived in the Andes of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, but today colonies in the wild remain only in Peru and Chile. Along with their relatives, viscachas, they make up the family Chinchillidae.
The animal (whose name literally means "little chincha") is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare due to hunting for their ultra-soft fur. Most chinchillas currently used by the fur industry for clothing and other accessories are farm-raised.
The two living species of chinchilla are Chinchilla chinchilla (formerly known as Chinchilla brevicaudata) and Chinchilla lanigera. There is little noticeable difference between the species, except C. chinchilla has a shorter tail, a thicker neck and shoulders, and shorter ears than C. lanigera. The former species is currently facing extinction; the latter, though rare, can be found in the wild. Domesticated chinchillas are thought to have come from the C. lanigera species.
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