Chinchillas

Photo credit Melissa Wolf
Photo credit Melissa Wolf (no, it’s not my birthday.)

Chinchillas are probably the cutest of the rodents.

They hail from the desert of the high Andes, where it is simultaneously cold and dry. They are very well adapted to their native habitat, which unfortunately results in them being not very well adapted to places like the US. Some common problems that therefore plague chinchillas kept as pets:

  1. You can’t get them wet. Chinchilla fur is actually so thick and fluffy that it can’t dry out properly on its own, so a wet chinchilla quickly becomes a moldy chinchilla. (Chinchillas take dust baths to get clean.)
  2. They can’t take heat, or even warmth. Our “room temperature” is their “oh god it’s hot.” They prefer to be below 60 degrees F; if the temp heads north of 75, they’ll probably die.
  3. Too many raisins will kill them. Chinchillas love raisins, but unfortunately for them, they’re only adapted to digest dry, brittle, nutrient-poor desert plants. A chinchilla can easily eat a couple of raisins a day without trouble, but if allowed to eat raisins to its heart’s content, its intestines will get all blocked up and the poor creature will die. (At least according to all of the chinchilla-related websites I have read; I have never personally killed a chinchilla.)

(Even though they are cute and fluffy, I don’t get the impression that chinchillas make very good pets, both because they don’t really bond with humans and because they poop constantly. If you really want a rodent, I hear that rats are rather sociable, though honestly, you could just get a dog.)

When I look at modern humans, I can’t help but think of the humble chinchilla, gorging itself to death on raisins. Sometimes we just don’t know what’s bad for us. With us, it’s not just the food–it’s pretty much everything. Find a cute cat picture on the internet? Next thing you know, you’ve just wasted three hours looking at pictures of cats. There are massive internet empires devoted to peoples’ love of looking at a picture of a cat for about two seconds. Sure, you could use that time to interact with a real cat, but that would require getting off your butt.

Facebook is worse than cat pictures. Do you really need to know that your Aunt Susie “likes” IHOP? Or exactly what your Uncle Joe thinks of Obamacare? Or where your vague acquaintance from three years ago had lunch today? No, but you’ll scroll through all of that crap, anyway, rather than face the horrifying prospect of actually interacting with another human being.

I swear, next time I go to a family gathering where people have flown over a thousand miles just to be there, and someone whips out their phone in the middle of a conversation just to check Twitter or FB, I am going to… well actually I will probably just be politely annoyed, but I will definitely be imagining stomping all over that phone.

Modernity is a drug. It tastes great. It’s wonderful. It’s fun. You get TVs and air conditioning and you don’t die of plague. Frankly, it’s awesome. But in the meanwhile, fertility drops. You end up inside, isolated, no longer talking to other humans, simply because that’s more work than clicking on another cake picture. Communities wither. So we get replaced by people who resist modernity, people who still have children and build communities.

Are you here for the long haul? Or are you just here for the raisins?

And if you’re just here for the raisins, why aren’t you enjoying them more?

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8 thoughts on “Chinchillas

  1. Preach. The future will belong to those who show up for it.

    This Sunday I’m headed over to the house of one of my mother friends who hurt her back. My toddler will come and I’ll try to generally keep the two toddlers out of chaos while making them breakfast and socializing.

    Since becoming a mother, I’ve made it a huge project to find these kinds of friends and pursue helping each other and creating the community that everyone laments losing. Yet despite all these lamentations I’ve found that very very few mothers are willing to accept this kind of help when it’s offered. Ultimately it seems the chinchillas prefer their depressing, isolated, refinished fish tanks.

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  2. Yes, they might be more difficult to keep than other rodents, but still it is not impossible with many people. They can bond with people, just they don’t want to be held much and startle easily. I now someone who keeps a chinchilla, which has become very tame, but still it panicks when it is held for a long time or petted by a stranger.
    I do not understand the obscessive tendency of Americans to equate all pets with dogs. Many people, myself included, keep smaller animals like reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and small mammals mainly to observe them, for the same reason another would keep small birds, fish, water invertebrates etc. Now some of these species might be more intelligent or social and bond more or less with their keepers, but that isn’t a common trait of all. Even if some of them are domesticated, in these small size they haven’t been selected for suitable behaivioral characteristics to work with humans, so they basically retain all their natural behaiviors and instincts, and this is their appeal. You can train a dog, not to bark, not to poop, not to be destructive, to sit at the same place for hours, basically you can mold it to your preferences and it will adapt. You cannot do the same to a rabbit or a lizard though. Although you will be able to modify a little its behaivior, it will mostly remain unchangeable. For example, my rabbit, the most intelligent of my animals, will still try to dig a hole to escape the heat or to make a nest, even if the soil is non-existent. She also may bite you if you anger her, and the next time she will be as good as usual. She of course won’t ever adapt to being held off the ground, because it is a terrestrial animal that only predators pick it up in nature. They have smaller brains and this makes their behaivior more ‘truthful’ and ‘uncomplicated’ I think.
    Dogs on the other hand are pedomorphic, mentally disabled and ultra-dependent wolves. Hardly a mezure of comparison for other species.
    ps. Most herbivores poop a lot, because they need to eat a lot. If you are not contended with that just don’t get a herbivore.

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    • Thanks for the kind comments. Chin poop is fairly harmless and easy to clean up, but the constant pooping mean that most people keep theirs in cages, and the average chin cage I have seen simply does not seem big enough for them to happily live in. Most folks should probably either aim smaller (if they don’t have much space,) or larger so the animal doesn’t have to be confined.

      Most people seem to keep animals either for functional purposes (meat, wool, defense,) emotional purposes, (replacement children,) or as toy-like versions of the real things. (a dog is a toy version of a wolf for kids.) The humble, semi-retarded dog fits the purpose for most people.

      I like rabbits. There are wild rabbits around. I am content to share a bit of my garden with them and watch them from a distance without having to deal with their poop. šŸ™‚

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      • I would make a tall cage with smaller width and put a fake rock wall with crevices if I was to get a chinchilla. Unfortunately the temperatures here don’t allow for that. I do not know if chinchillas can be litter trained, but rabbits surely can. They keep most of their droppings in a specific place in the wild as well, and they can adapt easily to poop in a certain spot or spots. Mine has to peep and poop out of her cage for over than two years.

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      • Chins can probably be trained to poop in specific spots, but I think they poop, like, every two to three minutes, so this would also constrain their movements.

        Obviously not an insurmountable problem, especially for someone willing to put a lot of time, effort and money into building a large custom cage or area and deal with the poop, but probably not worth it for the average family, which seems barely willing to take their dog for a walk.

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