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Helping give chinchilla kits a great start

My name is Jenny, and I am a Swing Keeper. I am a new addition to the Ambassador Animals Team, but I am not the only new addition. In March 2019 the team got to welcome the births of two new chinchilla kits! Hopefully many will have seen the photos on Zoo Atlanta Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and I want to keep the spotlight on chinchillas since they are endangered in the wild.

Wild chinchillas can be found in Chile along the foothills of the Andes Mountains, living in rocky areas to grasslands. Chinchillas give birth after a gestation of around 110 days. The kits are also born precocial, which means they are fully furred, their eyes are wide open, and they have the ability to move around their environment. This is a good start to help avoid predators. Our chinchillas, fortunately, do not have to worry about predators since they live in the protection of our Wieland Wildlife Home as ambassador animals.

At Wieland, Elsa is an attentive and protective mom. Although Elsa is doing most of the work nursing the kits until they are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks old, we still monitor the kits’ growth to make sure they are thriving.

We weigh them daily. When it is time to weigh the kits, we have to distract Elsa with treats so that we can gently scoop the babies in our hands to place them on the scale. The first time we weighed them, they weighed around 40 grams. Now they weigh around 200 grams and are almost half the size of Elsa in a little over a month. Wow, how they have grown!

In a few short weeks, they started to investigate the diet the adults are eating. At the Zoo, this is food like hay, sweet potato and chinchilla chow. When they are 2 weeks old, we also offer a dust bath. The dust baths will help maintain their coat since water can be detrimental to their thick fur.  It was fun to watch them roll in their first bath and send the dust up in the air.

Ultimately, these kits will go to another zoological organization to be ambassador animals, and will help their caretakers educate guests, but it is our job to start to prepare the kits for this important future. We handle them gently every day so they get accustomed to people and the sights and sounds around them. It is a difficult job taking care of animals this adorable, I must say with a wink, but I am fortunate to work with these wonderful animals.
Jenny B.
Keeper I, Ambassador Animals
(photo by Jenny B.)

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