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Chinchilla Research in Bolivia - 2011 Update
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Home > Field Reports > Chinchilla Research in Bolivia - 2011 Update

Chinchilla Research in Bolivia - 2011 Update

by Maria Copa Alvaro
February 8, 2011

Page 2 : Findings

We selected the interviews in which the identification of the animal and the descriptions of the animal were correct. We also noted the areas that the population mentioned as places in which the chinchillas lived in past. We also noted the locations’ altitudes in order to determine a range of altitudes in which the presence of chinchillas is more frequent.

Track Traps
Based on the interviews and on historical records, we initially located two evaluation sites in which the locals were sure of the species' presence: The National Park of Sajama and the Cerro Tapilla.

In the National Park of Sajama we placed the track traps at the base of the Cerro Casilla and in the Fiscal Reserve at the base of the Cerro Pelcoya.

The traps were placed in a grid of five rows and five columns. At each intersection on the grid, we placed a smoked card measuring 25x25 centimeters; we placed a bite of oats and peanut butter in the center of the card as bait. The traps were left for two nights and checked early in the morning—a total of three checks. The tracks were then compared to those taken in Chile using a similar method.

More than 150 people were interviewed. The age of those interviewed was between 45 and 100 years old. Seventy of them had some knowledge of chinchillas.

Thirty-two of those who were interviewed had seen the chinchilla at some moment of their lives, and 43% of them were able to recognize the animal as a C. lanigera or C. brevicaudat. The rest (57%) confused the chinchilla with at least one of six other species (see Table 1 below).

Table 1. Picture identification by interviewees
Number identifying photo
as a chinchilla
Chinchilla lanígera
Chinchilla brevicaudata
Lagidium vviscasia
Octodontomys gliroides
Ctenomys opimus
Microcavia sp
Abrocoma benetti
Chinchillula samae
Galea musteloide
Cavia porcellus
Auliscomys boliviensis
Made no identification

Regarding the description of the species from the 32 who were interviewed, 31% described the chinchilla as a lead color, bigger than a mouse and smaller than Viscacha (Lagidium viscasia). Of the remaining 69%, some said that the chinchilla has a black neck and white back; others said the chinchilla has a long, naked tail or a short and furry tail.

Regarding chinchilla habitat, 43% of those interviewed asserted that it was in high rocky mountains; one person said that the chinchilla lives between high Andes grasslands and rocky areas, and another said the chinchilla lives close to agricultural fields.

Regarding to the year of their observations, the number of recognitions in each decade declined from the 1950s to the 1990s—though a large percentage stated that they had observed a chinchilla in recent years.

Through anecdotes and stories from the fathers and grandfathers of the people who were interviewed, 38 people confirmed that, at less once, they had heard stories about chinchilla in the places where they lived. One of the interviewed people remembered that his father spoke about people who hunted chinchilla and commercialized them in nearby villages between 1910 and 1930. Some 37% of those interviewed confirmed that the descrease in the chinchilla population was due to its valuable skin, and they explained that, in old times, foreigners arrived in the villages and asked the locals to exchange chinchillas for food.

Through the interviews, we have identified 13 places where the species has lived: Serranía de Callapa, Cerro de Iquiaca (Wilacanta), Kasilla (Samaja), Río Caño and Mauri (Charaña), Cerro Cerque (Charaña), Cerro Sapajo (Cahuana), Llica, Serranía Totora, Sajama, Ciudad de Piedra (Samaja), Cerro Monterani (Curahuara), Cerro Sapajo (Murmuntani-Llica), Cerro en Tambo Quemado, Tata Sabaya, Belén (border with Chile), Zona Laja (Sabaya), Chinchillani (Hito border), Tata Sabaya, Cerro Grande (Villque), Cerro Sapajo (Huanaque and Buena Vista), and Cerro Poquesa (Huanaque). All of these places are above 4000 meters and, in some of them, there can be found evidence of the handmade traps that were used by chinchilla hunters. The traps were called "corralitos" or "murallas," and they resembled a small construction of rocks around the chinchillas’ nests.

Tracks Register
There was no evidence of short-tailed chinchillas over six days of sampling. Rodent tracks found in the samples reached an activity rate of 0.42 in Sajama and 0.25 in Pelcoya. Based on the tracks’ shapes and sizes, the most frequently observed species was Phillotys sp.

The knowledge of the people interviewed about chinchilla proves that chinchilla had been present in the country after the last survey in 1939. Thirteen places where the species has lived were identified. In six of those places, the local people suggested that there is still an active chinchilla population: two of these places are the National Park Sajama and Tapilla area.

In two of the potential places for chinchilla habitat, no chinchilla tracks were observed; however, the study’s sampling effort was short, so the results are not conclusive. It is necessary to complement the sampling with direct observations of the species.

Those interviewed that didn’t observe the animals alive in any of the possible habitat locations depended on stories from their elders. The descriptions they had in their minds came from the observations of other people. For this reason, more than 50% of people interviewed confused the chinchilla with another species, such as the hare (Silvilagus sp), Chinchilulla samae, Abrocoma sp, and even with Ctenomys opimus. In the same way, people who asserted that they had seen the chinchilla mistook its description in 57% of the cases; this proves that lot of them know of the chinchilla but do not have enough knowledge to provide a correct description.

In some cases, such as in Sajama, the interest of the locals for the species leads them to identify chinchilla as other species of smaller size. This means that the locals appreciate the species, even if it doesn’t live in their region.

Places found to be possible chinchilla habitat show that the chinchilla inhabits areas above 4000 meters, mainly in small rocky areas.

  • The data show that the species inhabited the study areas even after they had been declared extinct in 1939.
  • Thirteen places were determined to be previous chinchilla habitat.
  • Older locals recalled the presence of the species in the past, and considered commercial pressure as the cause of their extinction.
  • We found no sign of remaining chinchilla populations.

The first step of this study was financed by Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten und Populationsschutz e. V. (ZGAP), München, Germany, with the support of Save The Wild Chinchilla through Amy Deane.

The fieldwork was supported by Geovana Mendieta and Cirilo Copa.

I am gratefull for the help of all the guides of National Park Sajama, and the valuable comments of Jaime Jiménez and Lillian Villalba in the construction of the project.

Pages: 1, 2
mugshotAbout the author:

Maria Copa Alvaro studied Biology as an undergraduate in Bolivia and Biological Science as a postgraduate student in Mexico. While in Mexico, she studied the impacts of Hurricane Emily and Hurricane Wilma on populations of endangered pygmy raccoons.

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