Why chinchillas should be more important than gold.

For centuries chinchillas have been hunted until near extinction. 

With much-needed protection, they are slowly returning to one of the most remote and desolate places in Chile. And guess what? There is also gold in this area, and mining companies want it.

Wild chinchillas have roamed the coasts of South America. An area that supplied gold and where the chinchilla was hunted for its fur and meat. Both were sought-after but plentiful resources for the native inhabitants. Things got worse when European countries, such as Portugal and Spain, started to occupy this area.

Especially for the chinchilla, when improved weapons and techniques enabled the ”chinchilleros” – men who hunted chinchillas by trapping them – and others brought their numbers down until extinction. 

Both the longtail or coastal chinchilla (Chincilla Lanigera) and the shorttail or Andean chinchilla (Chinchilla Chinchilla), present along the coastal and Andes regions of Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, became protected species in a protected area. Much too late, as for a couple of decades, no one saw signs of chinchilla activity in the area. But recently, after 200 years of intensive hunting from mankind, the short-tailed chinchilla has come back. Small colonies of these lovely animals have been discovered! 

 

They live in the most remote area, but we still seem unable to let them live at peace. With the discovery of gold, the lobby has begun exploiting the area. Resources name Gold Fields as one or the only one trying to get permission to extract gold in this area. 

While I understand perfectly well that a business that has a board and stakeholders, and investors need to make a profit and grow (although many are rethinking this model), I can’t help but hope that Chile Government protects this under its laws this delicate region, won’t give in. 

 

We owe something to the planet. We understand that we have been doing so many things to this place we call our home that we all agree that things need to change. 

Climate is the hottest topic, as the consequences and risks of not acting now are too many and too high. But as we are in this pivotal moment, we must make daily choices. In the way, we buy and consume. In the way we use energy, in the way we treat people and employees, in the way we make school a priority for all genders, and in the way we seek to make up for our many mistakes of the past. 

 

For me, it is not eating meat anymore and not buying cheap clothing but investing in something more durable. I check out companies and have a soft spot for those who walk the talk. Every day, I realize I am far from perfect with my recently bought Wolf gas stove, and during the renovations, we didn’t opt for a climate-friendlier heat pump but stuck to gas. Yes, our house is from the ‘30s, and these houses are notoriously difficult to insulate; we were advised to stick to gas. But I think we all try to make an effort, and yes, it’s always easier to say what others ought to do. As soon as it affects our way of living, we struggle. 

 

Having said all this, I still think that we do not need a mining company making more money by endangering the safe zone for chinchillas. In the long run, we all are better off with a world full of diverse species instead of short-term economic thinking (and for a small group of people).

We OWE it to our planet and definitely owe it to these innocent creatures we have harmed unashamedly. We see lots of animals, in every culture this happens, as commodities. Well, they are not. They are creatures that deserve- if we must interfere- our protection, our guardianship. We must understand that we are not the only species that matter. That animals do have lives to live. The more we learn about them, the more we discover that they have characters (even fish!), and lots of species show language and traits we long thought of as only human, like humor and empathy. 

 

We need to remind mining companies that having a button with sustainability and environmental management comes with a promise of good conduct. Gold or chinchillas? Easy: chinchillas a 100 times over! 

Do you know what would be great? What really would make a company like Gold Fields stand out? If they announced their support of the area and its inhabitants by making a conscious choice to NOT exploit the grounds and endanger its creatures. That would make them ridiculously great and instant business heroes! And they would demonstrate authentic leadership in the new era we are entering. Go Chinchillas!

 

Interested? This website will tell you all you need to know about these chinchillas.

Sources:

*Science (J.E. Jiménez, University of North Texas) 

*Rock & Gem magazine.

*The references to the mining company’s website come directly from the Gold Fields site.

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Melinda Krah

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