Chinchillas are native to the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, most are actually found in areas so cold they are above the snow line. This is why they developed such lush, thick fur. In the wild, chinchillas live in crevices, between rocks and in caves. They are very social animals and live in colonies of up to 100 chinchillas. This gives them added protection from natural predators as well as helping to have a community to raise their young and keep the population diverse enough to continue on its own.
Chinchillas are amazing climbers/jumpers. Their powerful legs allow them to jump from rock to rock, while their stiff, firm tail helps them to keep their balance. In the wild, chinchillas are not the colors you will see in captivity. They are a light grey color, which helps them to blend in to their natural habitat in order for them to be more easily concealed. Their dense coats not only keep them warm from the harsh cold temperatures, but also is so thick that it helps them to avoid getting common parasites, such as fleas. Their fur also serves another purpose - chinchillas can "slip" their fur when scared and in need of escape. This fur gets released into the eyes and mouths of predators to give chinchillas time to escape their enemies.
Because chinchillas are from very dry arid habitats, they do not drink much water. In the wild, their water consumption is done mostly by drinking morning dew that has condensed on rocks. They also keep their coats clean by rolling in sand and dust (much like they do in captivity). Due to their nocturnal nature, their eyesight is not wonderful. They rely mostly on their long whiskers and their own innate sense of their surroundings to get around.
Chinchillas are now listed as endangered and protected from hunting by law; however, their habitat continues to be destroyed. Grazing animals, collection of wood and mining harm this endangered animal's last known habitat. The chinchilla (Chinchilla laniger) was first described by Moline, the pioneer naturalist of Chile, in 1782, and up to twenty or twenty-five years ago was common in the Andes of Northern Chile and Argentine, and Southern Peru and Bolivia. Here, then, was their home - many miles from man and his works. They held their own, as God intended they should, against the depredations of their natural enemies, the quiques or weasels, foxes, wild cats, and birds of prey. As they were provided with no means of defense against those enemies, their safety lay in flight, and in holes and crevices among the rocks. God equipped them to movement over uneven ground by giving them long hind feet and legs for leaping from rock to rock, and a long plumed tail to act as a balance and rudder while sailing through the air.
In some hole or cranny under a jumbled pile of boulders, each pair brought forth from one to three young to a litter and are supposed to have had two litters a year. God also provided them with a thick warm, gray coat, for the mountain winds are cold and piercing, and this same coat has been the cause of their downfall. When M'Lady expressed her desire for the chinchilla's fur, man and his dogs invaded their rocky homesites. The faces of savage dogs peered into their dens and man brought their worst enemy, the quiqui, who he had conquered and trained to work for him, to run them out. Where the chinchilla had found safety beneath overhanging boulders, they now found death in the form of a figure four trap. This persecution was only for a few months in the year, when their coats were the heaviest and thickest, but, once started, it never stopped until only a few shriveled carcasses were left to mutely speak of what had been.