(reprinted here with permission from etc-etc.com)
Those of us who own and love pet chinchillas have Mr. M. F. Chapman to thank for our enjoyment of these gentle animals. Nearly every pet chinchilla alive today is a descendent of Mr. Chapman's original herd. This is the story of the man who domesticated the chinchilla---
chinchilla was not known outside of its natural range in the South American
F. Chapman was working as a mining engineer for Anaconda Copper in
were several different "types" of chinchillas in the
This is one of the Costina type chinchillas captured by M. F. Chapman.
search for chinchillas was not an easy one. When his 23 trappers brought in
fewer chinchillas than expected, Chapman stepped up his plans and many field
trips were taken. Living conditions were primative. Supplies had to be
transported long distances. The search which took from 1919 to 1922, covered
immense areas including trips into
Mr. Chapman in the high
One trapper who captured a chinchilla reported that it had taken four weeks to return from where the chinchilla was captured. The chinchilla was carried by donkey in a container made of a five gallon oil can. It had been fed, but had been given no water since the Indians believed that chinchillas did not drink and would die if given water. It is believed that this chinchilla was trapped between an elevation of 14,000 and 18,000 feet.
It took three years for Chapman to acquire just eleven chinchillas worthy of breeding. It is not known how many were of the Costina type and how many were of the Lanigera type, but it is clear that the eleven chinchillas represented different types from different areas. Of these eleven chinchillas, it is known that only three were females.
Dona Inez Suez, the finest of the original eleven chinchillas.
At this time, in 1922, Chapman began the process of gradually working his way down from the mountains with his precious collection. The trek from his home at over 10,000 feet to sea level was taken in several stages to give the animals a chance to adjust to the change in altitude. The chinchillas traveled in large wooden cages that Chapman had specially built. They were shaded from the direct sun and, when necessary, were cooled with ice. Thanks to Chapman’s care, all eleven chinchillas made it down the mountain.
during this time, Chapman was working on getting permission to bring his
chinchillas to the
Official document attesting to governmental approval for export on January 15, 1923.
down the mountain, the chinchillas were transported via railroad to the coast.
From there they traveled via the coastal steamer Palena to
Mr. and Mrs. M. F. Chapman with the
crate in which all the known captive chinchillas in the world were placed for
Actually, in order to get his chinchillas aboard the ship, Mr. Chapman had his friends bring the chinchillas aboard in their pockets. Only after they were well out to sea did Mr. Chapman inform the captain that he had the animals in his cabin. Chapman had the cages brought up from the hold and threatened to sue if there was any interference with the chinchillas. In order to fight the heat during the trip, both Mr. and Mrs. Chapman took turns stocking the ice compartments built into the cages and draping the cages with cooling wet towels.
When they arrived in San Pedro on February 22, 1923 (Washington’s birthday), the Chapmans had twleve chinchillas with them. One chinchilla had died during the voyage and two babies were born.
Official communication attesting government approval of arrival and date of arrival in the U.S.
The twelve chinchillas stayed briefly in
Chapman Farm at Tehachapi,
California, where the farm was set up after its first temporary location in Los
This was one of the concrete chinchilla houses at Tehachapi. Note how the door could be padlocked.
During the escape the animals were taken across hot
deserts by car and many perished. The remaining animals left the country on a
tramp steamer from
so many disappointments and losses, Mr. Chapman moved back to the
First building at
Not too long after the construction of the first building was completed, a second set of buildings, even more interesting and maginative, were built. A large retreat of brick was built, adjoining an open room. The brick room was 6 x 8 feet and high enough to stand up in. There was six inches of soil on the ceiling for insulation. Above the ceiling was an air space of 12 inches, topped by a good roof. The cage area was about 6 x 6 and was also high enough for a man to walk into. Each cage contained an insulated nest box. The idea was to provide the needed environment to establish this animal in captivity and not to be concerned about the economics. Thanks to Mr. Chapman's concern and ingenuity his chinchillas thrived.
The second series of buildings at
Early type of nesting box developed by M. F. Chapman.
M. F. Chapman died on December 26, 1934, eleven years after beginning the
domestication of the chinchilla. Mr. Chapman’s grand experiment literally
resulted in the birth of the chinchilla industry. In later years, there were a
few Costina type chinchillas and a few Brevicaudata type chinchillas that were
M. F. Chapman and Pete. Pete often rode on Mr. Chapman’s shoulder as he tended to the rest of the herd.
Some of M. F. Chapman's original eleven chinchillas
survived him. One of his animals (the eighth one caught and for that reason
tattooed with the number 8), lived to be about 22 years old. His exact age was
not possible to establish since he was born in the wild. He was nicknamed Old
Hoff, for the German blacksmith who built the shipping cages used to transport
Mr. Chapman’s chinchillas to the
Thank you, Mr. Chapman.
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Peggy Jakopak, All Rights Reserved.
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