chinchilla (chĭnchĭlˈə) [key], small burrowing rodent of South America. It lives in colonies at high altitudes (up to 15,000 ft/4,270 m) in the Andes of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. One of the costliest of all furs, its soft gray pelt has been valued since the days of the Inca. The wild chinchilla was nearly exterminated before protective laws were passed. At one time over 200,000 pelts were exported from Chile. Wild chinchilla coats have cost as much as $100,000. Chinchillas are now raised on farms in South America and the United States, and this has resulted in lower prices for the skins, which are still considered among the most valuable. Chinchillas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Chinchillidae.
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