They call me Rylai and I’m a chinchilla. My name rhymes with Hi-Lie! I live with the Faranda family in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Josie Faranda makes sure I have enough to eat. My diet consists of fruit,nuts and seeds. We are herbivores and eat mostly plants In the wild I eat grass, roots, leaves and bark.
Guess how old I am?
Forty-one million years ago my ancestors were some of the first rodents to appear in South America. You could say we chinchillas are 41 million years old!
Brrr. It’s chilly here in Chile!
In the wild I live in the Andes Mountains of Chile, South America where the temperature can dip as low as -5 degrees Centigrade (that is 23 degrees Fahrenheit, or below freezing). That’s why I need very thick fur to keep me warm. I have on the average 65 hairs per follicle; that’s a sac or gland holding each hair in place. Humans only have between 2-3 hairs.
Yipes! Is that a Snake?
We like to stick together in herds of between 14 and 100 to warn each other about snakes, birds of prey and other predators. Yes, we have big ears, but we rely on them to keep us safe. Our strong sense of smell also protects us from skunks.
I’m in Trouble
People love our soft fur and that’s why there are not many of us left in the wild. Only chinchillas should wear chinchilla coats! No one else. We don’t want to become extinct. Do you know any other animals that are endangered?
No Water Baths Please!
If you want me for a pet, I need special care. Chinchillas don’t take water baths. We like to take special dust baths in pumice, a kind of gray volcanic stone used to clean. You have to dry me off right away if I get wet. Otherwise, my fur can develop a fungus or an infection.
I’m a Natural Acrobat!
Chinchillas have tails that help us balance and we can climb tall mountains and rocks in the wild. I can jump from high places, up to 6 feet! How high can you jump?
The Better to See You!
My eyes look big, but they are not well-developed. Luckily, my whiskers help me move around and feel things. They are almost half as long as my whole body.
If I Get scared
I hope you won’t scare me if you see me. We lose clumps of fur if we are stressed. You can calm us down and soothe us though and we’ll be all right. You can pet me, but I don’t like to be picked up by strangers. I like to be by myself in a cage and hide in my nesting box that’s filled with hay. I like to gnaw on the hay and eat it for roughage like you eat salad.
We love the Night Life!
We sleep a lot during the day and are active at dawn and dusk. We like safe wooden toys to play with and chew on. We need exercise like you do, so we enjoy running around in our cages.
How was your Day?
Josie sometimes asks me, “How was your day Rylai?” I can’t talk, but I love to nuzzle and bury my soft fur in people’s arms when they pick me up. We also like to nibble. That’s how we show our affection. If I nibble too hard, Josie says gently, “No, Rylai!” Then I get a raisin if I behave. I’m lucky to have the Faranda family take care of me. I’m a very happy chinchilla.
- Interview with Faranda Family: Josie, Brigid and Tom, November 1, 2017
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