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Pet of the week: The chinchilla

Who's this? It is a chinchilla, native of the Andes, and used to scraping a herbivorous living in pretty tough environments, so don't be fooled by the cute little ears and goofy teeth routine. He's a born survivor, so be prepared for him to live up to 15 years.

Would he act tough in my house? Once settled, the "chinch" is a great house guest, but not your typical pet for young children. He's more demanding and intelligent than, say, a rabbit, and can be taught tricks, as he will do anything for a tasty raisin. But he's nocturnal, so only really comes alive after lights-out for most children. Expect to find them (it is always advisable to keep two together) snuggled up in their roomy cage, snoozing all day before night-time foraging. Even though they are living in your house, old habits die hard.

Aren't they famous for their lovely fur? Indeed, and in the wild they are able to keep it soft through regular grooming in dust baths. In the house you have to improvise and make their "baths" for them, though don't go overboard with gold taps and rainwater shower heads. All they need is a shoe-box-sized pit filled with "chilla sand" (available from specialist pet shops).

And what about food? As he is herbivorous, he will mostly be eating hay, but it is advisable to supplement this with a fibrous pellet (again available from pet stores).

Who might own a chinch? Because their fur is so soft, the creature has always been prized highly, and even that shrinking violet Madonna has been seen wearing a chinchilla fur coat. But if you would rather play with your pets than wear them, they will suit most people who are prepared to spend a bit of evening time with them.

How do I get one? We spoke to the very helpful Roman Gesikowski of R&J Chinchilla Rescue, who has some 270 chinches in his care – many people are taken by surprise at the animals' longevity and think they can just hand them back. For more information, call Roman on 01933 387131, or visit rj-chinchillarescue.co.uk