Thursday, September 18, 2014

Zoo Rant Week: Why ocean animals are tricky to talk about

Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.

This whole rant is thanks to BLACKFISH, and most of my examples so far have been land animals. So it's time to talk about the ocean, the animals that live there, and why there's no easy answer to any argument about them.

It boils down to this, and it's pretty common sense:

The ocean is huge.

There are tens of millions of species that live in the ocean.

We haven't even scraped a corner of a piece of a smidge off the everything there is to know about the ocean.

The Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean, was visited once in 1960 by a manned submersible, and only three other times by robotic subs. We've been to the moon more times than the deepest part of our own planet.

But, somehow, we're still making it a miserable place for animals to live.

Did you know there's a giant floating island of garbage in the middle of the Pacific?

Did you know there are international sanctions and agreements against whaling, but several countries openly ignore those sanctions and do it anyway? For whatever reason, it's not considered poaching, because it's the ocean.

Did you know that if we don't find a way to reverse or even just stop climate change, we can expect rising sea levels and changes in the makeup of our oceans that could cause mass extinctions of many different species, not only in the water, but on land?

SeaWorld San Diego is one of only two facilities in the world that's successfully bred emperor penguins outside of Antarctica. These birds require extremely specialized care and conditions to successfully breed, and their habitat is threatened every day by the loss of Antarctic sea ice, rising sea levels, and warmer summer extremes in the Antarctic.

Having said all that, the biggest challenge that faces us in the debate about zoos keeping whales and dolphins is that we simply don't know everything about sea animals. It's impossible to study them thoroughly in the wild. All the speculation about the lifespans of whales is just that: speculation. We haven't been recording the same animals for long enough to know for sure how long they live. But they certainly face more challenges in the wild than they do in a zoo, and their average lifespans are certainly not the oft-spouted high numbers.

Sea animals present us with a number of challenges because we simply can't say anything for certain about their lifestyles and habits. We can guess, but we can't know. At least not yet.

In the meantime, we do everything we can to keep our animals healthy, mentally and physically.

Tomorrow: What the future holds for zoos

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Zoo Rant Week: Why education and conservation matter

In case you missed it, I'm talking about zoos and BLACKFISH this week. Yesterday was all about why zoos are important for the environment. Today, I'm narrowing that down even further.

I mentioned in my inaugural post that you should look for a zoo that does work with education and conservation if you're looking for a responsible zoo to support.

Public education is one of the best things a zoo can do for itself and the animals in its care. At my zoo, we offer guided tours, interpretive staff, and education programs for school children. We have camps and overnight programs, as well as daily keeper talks and animal presentations. We have signage on all our exhibits and offer online resources through our website. On top of that, each animal area is staffed with knowledgeable employees who are experts on our animals and facility. It's literally as easy as asking to learn. And that is crucial in the fight against extinction.

By fostering public knowledge, we can combat misinformation, including things like the fact that rhino horn isn't medicine (it's actually made up entirely of keratin, the same protein as our fingernails and hair). Or that climate change is really doing a number on animal populations. Or that you can really, truly make a huge difference to local wildlife by following all the rules you learned as a kid: turn off the lights when you leave a room. Recycle. Don't litter. And so forth.

My goal every time I open my mouth and talk to a guest at my zoo is to send them away either having learned something new or caring a little bit more than they did before they spoke to me. Why? Well, aside from wanting to do my job well, I know that the more people care about things, the more likely they are to take action. Whether it's doing any of the little things above, or voting pro-environment in the next election, I want them to hear how they can make a difference. It's so easy to see all of this as someone else's problem. But it's all of ours. It's up to all of us to fix it.

Now, the reason conservation work is important should be glaringly obvious, but you may not realize the extent your local zoo goes to in doing so. Many zoos around the world collaborate with each other to study different habitats and animals. Many zoos even have their own research institutions attached. Including SeaWorld, actually. The goal of these research institutions is to identify why animals and habitats are endangered and find ways to help them.

These facilities, as I mentioned yesterday, are crucial to saving animal species. In 1982, the California Condor's numbers dropped to a startling 22 birds. Thanks to a collaborative effort from zoos and the governments of California and Mexico, we now have about 400 birds. This still isn't a good enough population, but it's a remarkable recovery from 22.

The controversial thing I want to say today is this:

That caring that I mentioned earlier? It doesn't happen if people don't have the chance to see these animals. It's really easy to think of the coatimundi, for example, as a South American problem, because most people in the US don't live with coatimundis in their backyards. If you've never heard of these animals, why should you care what happens to them? If you've never seen one in person, it's too simple to say that they don't matter.

Zoo animals do not (if they are living in a responsible zoo) have a bad life. People have this romantic vision of the wild and the "freedom" these animals are missing, but the wild is shrinking every day, and the freedoms out there are more and more often certain death at the hands of humans. Life in a zoo isn't bad. They're treated with the best care we're capable of giving them. It's actually my job to take the best care of my animals that I can. I spend 8 hours a day ensuring their comfort and well-being. In my free time, I educate people.

We need animals in zoos because most people are not going to travel to South America in their lifetime. If they do, they likely won't see or hear of a coatimundi. Same goes for polar bears, and snow leopards, and so on and so forth a hundred thousand times over. The best way we can get people to care about these animals and their plights is to show them why they should care.

Tomorrow: Why ocean animals are a sticky subject

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zoo Rant Week: Why zoos are important for the environment

This week we're talking about all the things I wish people understood about zoos and the role they play in our world.

One of the things that's driving me crazy about BLACKFISH's influence are the folks whose response to the film is to "set the whales free" or even pass legislation to keep them (or any other animal) from being kept in a zoo.

Well, that is about the single worst thing you could do for any animal on this planet.

I won't get into the politics here. Climate change is happening, and we are at fault. Regardless of how you feel about that subject, you should at least accept that humans are extremely damaging to our planet. We litter. We sprawl. We poach. We fight wars. We build. We mow down habitats. Wild animals simply aren't safe. They are, in fact, safer in zoos, in the case of many species.

I've had the opportunity to work with some animals that are extirpated, or, extinct in the wild. They would'nt exist anymore if it weren't for zoos. My facility alone has at least ten species of animals that are extirpated. We breed them so we can consider releasing them back into their native habitat. But for some of these species, they're in zoos indefinitely because it's simply not safe where they came from.

The Somali wild ass is one such example. This animal looks like a mix between a donkey and a zebra, built to survive the harsh climate of Somalia. But Somalia, as you may have noticed, is having some trouble. Its people are starving. The Somali wild ass was hunted to extirpation for food. Without the individuals we have in zoos, this animal would no longer exist.

While not extirpated (yet), it recently came to light that there are currently more tigers in private ownership in the United States than there are in the wild.

And there are creatures like the Pere David's deer. The Arabian oryx. The northern white rhino. All extinct in the wild. Their only hope of survival is zoos.

Finally, if you need some proof of what climate change will do to the rest of the planet, there's the plight of the polar bear.

The single biggest followup I hear zoo detractors make to this point is:

Why should I care if a few species go extinct?

Well, this is one of those questions that I have to be careful answering, because I get personally frustrated with it. I can't tell you why you should care from an emotional standpoint (though you should), because we still live in a world where most people see animals as fourth-class citizens. My personal view? They are living things, it's not their fault we're doing this to the planet we share with them. We owe them as much respect as we can provide, and we especially owe them the responsibility of trying to fix the damage that we've done.

Okay. I've said it. Now we can move on.

If the emotional side of things doesn't appeal to you, the biological imperative behind them might.

Every habitat on the planet has an ecosystem. This ecosystem is like a well-oiled machine: all the parts are there, it works flawlessly, you never have to think about it. But if you take out a single piece, or weaken it, suddenly the machine doesn't work so well anymore. And by the time you notice it's not functioning properly, it might be too late to fix it.

I'm beating you over the head with this analogy. I'm sure you've worked it out for yourself. (Hint: the animals [and plants, and insects, etc.] are the parts of the machine). So what happens when you take out one of these pieces? What's happening to the ecosystems that have lost so many tigers, or oryx, or deer?

Let me tell you a story that hits a little close to home (literally) for most of us here in the US.

The black-tailed prairie dog, a small rodent from the plains of middle America, is seen as a pest by most farmers. Like many rodents, they can be a bit destructive. Farmers dislike them because they pick on their crops. But when efforts to eradicate prairie dogs succeeded, something unintended started happening, too. Other animals began to die off, like the black-footed ferret, who used old prairie dog tunnels for their own homes. Animals that were responsible for killing other small pests like mice and rats. Which in turn made the crops suffer more. It turns out that the black-tailed prairie dog is what's known as a keystone species: it holds up the ecosystem.

In areas where we've driven away wolves and shoot coyotes and other predators on sight to protect livestock, there tends to be an overabundance of deer and other herbivores, who overeat plants and therefore destroy food and habitat for other species. When their native food source is gone, they spill over into human territory, causing car accidents and ruining-- you guessed it, more crops, and people's gardens.

This holds true in every ecosystem. No matter where you are in the world, removing a piece of the puzzle ruins the whole image. One species lost damages everything else, including us.

Obviously the world has lost species before and continues right on. But we are damaging things at a greater scale than we were even fifty years ago. And it's only going to get worse. Where will it stop?

We don't know. We can't predict how far it will go, how long it will take before we can all agree to do something about it and actually get it done. What we can do, though, is start preparing for the worst, and doing our best to ensure if that does happen, these animals won't be gone forever. We will have them around, thanks to zoos.

Tomorrow: Why education and conservation matter

Monday, September 15, 2014

Zoo Rant Week: Introduction

The last year has been a little stressful as a zoo employee.

There was a documentary released in 2013 called BLACKFISH. I've touched on it briefly here on the blog, and chances are you've either seen it or heard of it by now. Since the release of BLACKFISH, there has been a new wave of mainstream activism that is anti-zoo in general, and anti-SeaWorld in particular.

This is extremely troubling to me. Zoos can be a sensitive subject for many people, and even for me, admittedly. As a child, I wasn't quite able to rationalize them. But having worked for three very big players in the game (including SeaWorld), I can now say with complete confidence that the world very much needs zoos. Responsible zoos, at least. And yes, that includes SeaWorld. I am not necessarily pro- or anti- SeaWorld specifically, but I am incredibly pro-responsible zoo. Responsible zoos need all the help they can get.

This week I'll be putting up a few different posts explaining why. This is not an anti-BLACKFISH post-- I will NOT be refuting the film directly, as there are plenty of excellent posts out there doing so, much more eloquently and succinctly than I could ever hope to. (One of the links above is SeaWorld's own list of erroneous BLACKFISH points. I see the conflict of interest there, however, as a former employee who worked closely with the killer whale trainers and was also involved in animal care, I do not see anything in there that I don't believe to be the truth).

Instead, I hope to explain the other side. Plain and simple, if you've bought into the biased propoganda that BLACKFISH has to offer, you do not know the whole story. You simply can't watch a 1.5 hour documentary, search the internet for facts that support it, and consider yourself to be an expert. I don't mean this accusingly. I'm hoping if you're reading this that you want to know more. I'm hoping I can still change your mind.

We need zoos. Believe it or not, we need SeaWorld.

I will be turning off comments on these posts because I don't have the time or wherewithal to deal with trolls et al. Individuals who want to know more or have genuine questions can feel free to email me directly.

So. Today, we'll start off with a little zoo history, and a couple points that will be important this week.

The past, the present, and the future

Zoos originally began as the menageries of the wealthy and powerful. Kings and nobles would collect and display exotic or rare animals as a show of their reach (and riches). As the centuries went on, zoos became less private and more public. Those same kings and nobles wanted not only their compatriots but also their subjects to be awed by the collections of animals they maintained. Eventually, someone got the bright idea to charge for admission, and the modern-day independently owned zoo was born.

The thing about zoos is that they are ever-improving. From literal cages with bars to the most naturalistic habitats we are capable of building. From chains, whips, and chairs to positive reinforcement and even hands-off care. The people who work in zoos in our modern world are there because they care about their animals. There's always more we can do to improve, but even in the last forty years, we've come a long, long way.

The future of zookeeping is either grim or hopeful. We stand at a crossroads right now with the public opinion swaying in the breeze. But if zoos fall victim to the hype, we stand to lose so much (more on this later).

What do I mean by a responsible zoo?

Generally speaking, a responsible zoo is one that fosters education and, more importantly, conservation of the animals in its care. Obviously the care they take of their animals is paramount, but as an outsider, it can be hard to tell whether animal care is "good" or not. Much of what goes on daily in a zoo can easily be mistaken for either good or bad care, and unless you're in the field it can be hard to tell the difference. So, the easiest way to tell as an outsider is to look for education AND conservation programs. The zoo should offer some form of both of these.

In the United States, the best way to tell if a zoo is following animal care guidelines is to look for accreditation by the AZA and the USDA. Zoos that carry these accreditations will usually say so on their websites. (Note: this does not apply to very small operations, like exotic animal rescues and nature centers. There, you will have to use your best judgment, but you can look for education and conservation again as a clue).

Okay, so, what is conservation, exactly?

Conservation means the zoo is interested in helping the environment, specifically the animal species in their care. Many zoos participate in the Species Survival Plan (or SSP) for various endangered species. An SSP is basically a studbook for all the zoo-kept animals of a particular species. That way, we can breed them responsibly to ensure the best genetic diversity.

But conservation can also be closer to home. SeaWorld San Diego, for example, does local marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, and release. They also have a facility designed entirely to help with oiled wildlife recovery during catastrophic oil spills. I was fortunate enough in my time there to be trained in the recovery of oiled birds, which is an undertaking that requires tons of manpower and resources, and was done in addition to our regular keeper duties, all behind the scenes.

And what about education?

Okay look. I know you're not an idiot and you probably know what education is. But at a zoo, the things you should look for are guided tours, signage at exhibits, and public presentations.

Stay tuned this week. Tomorrow: why zoos are so important to the environment.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Five surprising things you'll get from entering an online writing contest

I know this title sounds click-baity, but hey-- the formula is solid! Bear with me and read on. 

I won't claim to be an expert on writing contests. I've never judged one, I've never hosted one. But I have participated in a few, and it was through one that I even got my lovely agent. So I'm comfortable saying that I know a little bit about them, at least on a participant level. And now that I'm no longer entering them, it's time to pass on what I've learned.

Everyone who enters an online writing contest typically goes in with some end goal variant of getting an agent. Or at the very least, getting an agent's attention. But there are a few things you can get from entering even if signing a contract for representation isn't your end result (this time!).

I'm assuming, by the way, that if you're reading this, you know the basic gist of how most online writing contests work. If you don't, feel free to ask in the comments and I'll explain the structures I've run across.

1.) Feedback. This, my friends, is the single most valuable thing I took away from every contest I entered. Many have a structure where everyone who enters must critique X number of other entries. Which meant that I was getting at least a few different opinions on my work, whether I made it to the agent round or not. This was huge, especially when I was new to the online writing world and hadn't made any friends for critiquing yet. It gave me a new, fresh, random insight into my work. Even in contests that don't follow this structure, I usually wound up with some form of feedback because, well-- see below.

2.) Friends. Speaking of friends for critiquing, I met some of my favorite people online when we were co-participants in contests I entered. Most contests have a twitter hashtag. If you hang out on that hashtag and chat with other entrants, friendships will sort of naturally form. Even if you aren't the super social type, it's fairly easy to find at least one other writer you share something in common with-- even if it's just the genre/ category you write in. I've found several awesome critique partners and betas just by entering contests, whether I made it in to the contest itself or not. Plus, there's an awesome sense of camaraderie and community amongst the participants. It's nice to have someone to commiserate with when you're angsting over whether you'll be picked or not.

3.) A future. (Okay, I'm just having too much fun with this list alliteration). One of the things that I liked the most about entering contests was the fact that it pushed me to be better. It wasn't just me anymore, punching away at my keyboard behind the curtain. My writing became a public commodity. I had accountability. I had people looking at my words and telling me what they thought of them, and it wasn't always nice. It's so easy to get sucked into the vacuum of the query void, with feedback from agents themselves becoming rarer and rarer these days (due to the MASSIVE volume of queries they receive now!) Entering contests helped show me that my work was resonating, or not, more accurately than a form rejection.

4.) A face. Every writer needs a brand. It's always been slightly fascinating to me that my two chosen careers-- zookeeping and writing-- are ones that shy or introverted people trend towards because they seem like awesome, reclusive jobs. But both have become so much MORE demanding socially, especially with the advent of the internet and the huge leaps made in zookeeping the last 20 years. It's now my job to connect people with animals, not just take care of them. And as a writer, I don't just get to put words on a page anymore. It's my job, too, to connect people with my books. Querying can seem rather anonymous because email addresses don't go anywhere besides an inbox. But a contest gives you a face. People can see who you are with a few clicks. It's a great way to begin building that brand you'll need someday.

5.) Fortitude (Ha! Made it through all five!). Most of all, what I got from contests was the courage to keep trying. I'm not the type of person who gives up easily anyway, but boy, there were definitely times when I wanted to. Having the encouragement of my mentors and fellow participants made me realize that whether I made it this time or not, I wanted to keep trying. It is SO IMPORTANT to keep trying. When I felt my lowest, when I was sure I was the worst writer out there, these contests kept me going. Because at least I would come out of it with some feedback, a new friend, and a little hope.

So there you have it. It's not just about getting in, and getting read, and getting an agent. Sometimes, what happens around those things is more important.

And whatever you do, keep going back to #5. Stick it out. Keep trying. When the time is right, when you are ready, when your book is ready, it will happen. And it will be amazing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A post I've been wanting to write for a long time: HOW I GOT MY AGENT!!!

Lovelies. This post is a bit long, but I hope you'll forgive that, since I have a lot to say.

If you've been round these parts much, you have probably read all about how 2013 was the year I felt like a sham. You may have even read this post about what to do with yourself after a writing contest is over.

So it gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to say that perseverance really does pay off.

Last year, I wrote one (new) manuscript. It was an idea that came to me somewhat gradually, then nagged at me for months until I finally gave in and wrote it down. But even after it was done, after I edited it a bit, I hesitated to let myself get excited about it.

I let it sit for a month, and when I came back and re-read it, I remember telling my husband that it was the best thing I'd written yet. But even after editing some more, I still waited.

Not because I didn't think it was ready. If anything, after all the heaviness in my life, I think *I* wasn't ready. I just needed a break from putting myself out there. I needed some time to build my thick skin back up, especially for this brand new story that I was deeply in love with. In the meantime, I worked on some revisions on another, older manuscript, one that I had plenty of thick skin for.

By April of this year, I was as ready as I was going to get. I was about to start querying when I saw that the same contest I'd entered last spring, The Writer's Voice, was going to be held again in May. I'd had such a good time the year before that I decided to hold off on querying and enter the contest again. In my mind, it would be sort of a personal kick-off to the querying process that would at the very least hopefully net me some useful query feedback.

So when May rolled around and the contest opened, I put my entry up on my blog and held my breath. I was ready.

When Elizabeth Briggs picked me to be on her team, with Krista Van Dolzer as her "celebrity judge," I was elated, but cautious. Their feedback was so helpful and they were both so kind. I owe them a HUGE thanks for all the behind-the-scenes encouragement and assistance they gave me. Plus, bonus Cool Fact: Krista was the other mentor that had picked me in last year's contest, when I'd worked with Monica Bustamante Wagner. I was super excited to work with Liz and glad to have the chance to finally work with Krista.

Still, I remained cautious, keeping my carefully-metered hope tied up in a little box. Even after the feedback was taken into account and the edits made to my query and first page. Even after the entries went live on Elizabeth's blog. Even after 13 agents voted to see my manuscript. Even after I sent my manuscript out to all 13. Even after an email appeared in my inbox on a quiet Monday morning five days after I sent the manuscript.

I was in my mom's car. My visiting sister and her two daughters were in the backseat. My mom was driving us to the beach, one last California hurrah for my sister and nieces before they flew back home to Michigan. I just happened to check my phone, and there was an email there from none other than Sara Megibow, a powerhouse agent whose awesome reputation I knew very well.

I steeled myself as I read the first line, scanning automatically for the word "unfortunately".

Instead I saw the words "offer you representation," and I'm not sure Sara knows this part, but I immediately burst into tears. I could blame it on pregnancy hormones, but I'm pretty sure I was just in complete shock.

I somehow managed to recover my coolness, but before I could email her back, or call my husband to freak out, or do anything, I promptly lost all cell service on my phone. I spent the next hour or so agitating internally while we did our beach visit. My sister asked me as we were getting back into the car how I was being so calm-- apparently I was doing a great job of hiding it!

I did finally speak with Sara that evening. I've heard other writers say when they spoke with their future agents that they just GOT their book. This is 100% true. Everything Sara had to say about my book was absolutely the way I felt too. I could feel her excitement through the phone and it was an awesome feeling to hear someone say such nice, enthusiastic things about my work. I still had 12 other fulls out though, so in order to be fair I told her I'd get back to her in ten days.

That was the longest ten days I've had in a while.

On the morning of the tenth day, I emailed Sara to let her know I wanted to accept her offer. I am now represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency!

I feel like I need to say something motivational here, so I will. And here it is:

Don't. Give. Up.

Keep writing. Keep learning your craft. Keep trying new things. Amazingness can happen.

Stick with it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Strange Paradox of the Chinchilla

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while but have been a bit uncertain of. As an animal lover, it's often hard to reconcile my moral beliefs with my logical ones. I know, for example, that I don't like the fur industry. I would never own a fur coat or purchase anything made of animal fur, for many, many reasons.

But would you believe that chinchillas, these cute little fuzzy guys, would be on their way to complete extinction in the wild if it weren't for fur farming?

My photo

There are three sub-species of chinchilla, the long-tailed, the short-tailed, and the king chinchilla. The king chinchilla is extinct. The other two species are critically endangered in the wild.

Now, here's the paradox:

You can walk into many pet stores, including major chains like Petco, and BUY A CHINCHILLA as a pet.


Believe it or not, BECAUSE of the fur trade.

Chinchillas are, if you've never had the experience of touching one, in possession of one of the softest animal coats on the planet. Their coat is extremely advantageous in the high-altitude Andes mountains of South America where they are/ were found naturally. It is very dense, with a high hair-to-follicle ratio, helping keep the chinchilla warm in extreme cold. Their fur is so effective at this that a chinchilla can overheat and die if exposed to temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unfortunately for the chinchilla, this amazing softness and warmth made people want their fur, too.

Despite it being illegal to hunt them in the wild, after a time, the chinchilla was hunted to its current status by people seeking their fur. And then something bizarre happened.

The fur industry began farming chinchillas instead. This actually made a lot of sense, because it can take up to 150 pelts to make one fur coat. It's a lot easier to source that number of pelts from farmed animals.

But because there was no longer a need to hunt the wild chinchillas, they are no longer considered threatened from illegal hunting. Because there are so many of them in fur farms, you can walk into a pet store and buy one as a pet.

However, while their wild populations, according to the IUCN Red List, may be recoverable, they are still too small, and thus both remaining species of chinchillas stay firmly on the Critically Endangered list. If they hadn't been farmed, it's very likely that all three species would have gone extinct by now.

And thus the paradox. Thanks to fur farming, we still have chinchillas, even though it was the fur industry that was responsible for their decline in the first place.

This is, understandably, a concept that can be difficult for people to grasp. We keep chinchillas at my zoo specifically to tell this story. Not to glorify or thank the fur industry, but as yet another tool to explain to people why buying animals and animal products is such a risky maneuver. If, let's say, you were going to purchase a chinchilla fur, you may want to make sure that those chinchillas were farmed, not wild. Proper research needs to be done before committing to not only any new pet, but also, for the types who buy such things, animal products.

I've learned that you can't stop people from doing things they really want to do. But you can maybe guide them into doing those things responsibly, and that sometimes has to be good enough.

I am completely familiar with the puzzled looks on people's faces when I tell them the chinchilla is endangered. And then I happily tell them why. Because if I can get just one person to think a little harder about their next purchase, I've done my best. If I can stop them from making the purchase altogether, even better. And if there's hope for changing people's mind about chinchillas, maybe we can still save animals like the tiger, the elephant, and the rhino, too.

PS-- I often get the followup question: why can't we release the farmed chinchillas into the wild, then, and save the endangered ones? The answer is that generally speaking, releasing non-wild-born animals into the wild is an All Around Bad Idea if they are not specially prepared for the experience. Also, with chinchillas in particular, while they are not domesticated, the farmed chinchillas have been selectively bred and interbred enough that we may not be releasing the same true species that currently exist in the wild. If this were the case, releasing those animals could wind up driving those true species completely extinct as the released chinchillas take over the resources and areas used by the others.