Bertie the Chinchilla arrived at the sanctuary in April 2022. He was in a terrible state both mentally and physically and we feared at first we were already too late to help him. He was extremely underweight, missing a lot of his fur and was clearly both stressed and very depressed.
The first challenge was getting him back to better health and encouraging the fur to grow. He didn't seem to know what a sand bath was and these are an essential part of a chinchillas grooming. Chinchillas do not bathe in water and instead use a fine sand to roll in to clean themselves and remove any unwanted dirt/oils.
This stage took a long time but before long he started to respond well and begun enjoy tucking into his food and rolling in his sand baths. He wouldn't tolerate human contact understandably and would give a swift sharp nip if he didn't want to be examined or weighed that day. Over time his weight slowly grew and his fur began to improve.
Next was confidence building and we did this by letting him free roam for periods of time with us present. At first he mostly hid and would grunt his annoyance if we attempted any form of enrichment or interaction. However in time he started to gain confidence in his surroundings and would soon be jumping on areas to explore more. Chinchillas can jump to around 5-6 feet so it was great to see him confident enough to do this.
Once we felt his confidence had grown enough we were keen to begin the next part of this journey.
The next challenge was introducing him to some of our other rescued male chinchillas. This is a long process but essential as chinchillas are a very social species and usually do not cope well alone. We have had most success by placing 2 cages next to each other so they can smell each other, but can’t fight. Over time, they will each get used to the proximity of the other’s smell and can slowly bonded. The pair will often scrabble at each other through the cage bars, but they can’t reach to do any damage. This stage is usually a couple of weeks but with Bertie took longer as we don't think he had ever lived with another chinchilla and was extremely stressed by even the close proximity of one.
We started and stopped this process a number of times as Bertie started to lose his fur once more from the stress. What would normally take couple of weeks took a few months but eventually the repetition seemed to work and he made friends through the bars. Next up was allowing him to live within the group and this stage went surprisingly quickly. He appeared to really thrive in the group becoming the alpha boss quickly and for the first time since arriving he looked happy. We were so excited and happy for him and we hoped this was the happy ending we had hoped for.
Then came Halloween. After months of happy families a local firework display was catastrophic and the endless loud bangs caused the chinchillas too much stress and a huge fight started. When chinchillas fight they use their teeth but also their urine and Bertie came off badly as others attacked him as the alpha. We aren't usually affected by fireworks but for some reason someone nearby decided to create a huge, loud display which was extremely stressful.
We immediately separated him from the group to heal but this caused a lot of depression for him and his mental health declined considerably. We were devastated and felt like we were back to square one and had failed him on his journey with us. We began the entire process again, first with healing and then with slow introductions. We decided to split the group up and focus on Chester and Bertie together as Chester is a relaxed softie and always happy for Bertie to be the boss so we felt that hopefully as a pair they could possible thrive together.
The process was much quicker as Bertie was used to the different stages by now and thankfully there were no further setbacks.
Finally.... This was so much more successful and have been happy together now since January and their friendship only seems to grow. *huge sigh of relief*. We really hope that this is it for Bertie now with his physical and mental health improving all the time.
Chinchillas are a really tough animal to integrate so we are really pleased with the happy ending. He sadly won’t be a character other humans will meet as he can be unpredictable with his biting and chinchilla nips can be rather painful. He will live his life out here at the sanctuary with his bestie Chester and hopefully a smoother journey for him from now on!
He has been a challenging character to say the least and quite the emotional yo-yo.
If you would like to help Bertie on his ongoing journey with us you can buy him a gift from his own animal wishlist:
SOME CHINCHILLA FACTS
• The exact population of wild chinchillas is unknown, but it is estimated that there are only 10,000 left in the world. This makes them an incredibly endangered species, and they are protected by law in their natural habitat in the Andes Mountains of South America.
• Chinchillas are related to guinea pigs and porcupines.
• They can tolerate freezing temperatures, but they cannot survive in temperatures higher than 80 F (27 C); high temperatures and humidity can cause these rodents to suffer from heat stroke.
• Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, which means they are very active at dawn or dusk and sleep during the day.
• Chinchillas have up to 60 hairs per follicle, unlike humans, who typically have only one hair per follicle. This makes their fur very thick, allowing them to stay warm at high altitudes. Their thick fur ensures that fleas cannot easily live in them since they would suffocate if they did. (Result!)
• A predator may think it has grabbed a chinchilla, and find out that it didn’t grab anything, thanks to an ability called “fur slip.” When in danger, Chinchillas can let go of their fur to escape a predator. This leaves the predator with a lot of fur but no actual prey. Of course, the chinchilla regrows its fur.
• In the wild, chinchillas can live up to around ten years, while in captivity, with the proper care, they can live an amazing 20 years. Of course, they live longer in captivity because they are not exposed to predators and poachers.