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A new hope for endangered chinchillas

Far from the Andes, endangered chinchillas have found new burrows in the data centres that used to be the heart of the digital economy.

With no need to store the vast amounts of personal data that used to be the mainstay of the digital economy, the massive decommissioned data centres all over Europe are being repurposed. Of the approximately 100 hyper-scale facilities within the EU, around 80 are being torn down, or put to new use. One such facility is a 184 thousand square-metre building complex in the south of Denmark, originally built to house a Facebook data centre. But now, the humming of servers processing deeply sensitive personal data has been replaced with the squeaks of a furry Andean-native mammal.

Chinchillas in their natural habitat make their homes in rock crevices or underground burrows, and live on a diet of plants, fruits, seeds, and insects. Inside the old data centre, the rugged landscape of the Andes has been reconstructed with its arid, barren soil, along with a full day-night cycle. Already wired into the country’s extensive renewable energy grid, and with decimal degree humidity and temperature controls, the old data centre now closely replicates the natural habitat of the world’s furriest land animal (the chinchilla sprouts upwards of sixty hairs per follicle).

Almost hunted to extinction

Because of their incredibly soft fur, chinchillas were hunted to the point where they were quite rare in nature, as far back as a century ago. Today, chinchillas are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The move by the municipality of Odense to re-zone the data centre for wildlife rehabilitation, comes after long deliberations at the local government, and strong community engagement.

“In the end, the cuteness of these very furry rodents won out over the American tech giant’s promise of local job growth. We can already see how the critters are spreading joy among both the citizens of Odense, and environmentalists. Plus, the fact that we can help preserve a species under threat of extinction makes everything worthwhile,” says Odense mayor Hanne Christiane Andersen.

A highly social animal

Besides being cute, chinchillas kept as pets are known to be timid, sensi­ti­ve, and intelligent. They are also extremely social, living in groups of up to 100 members — both for social connection, and to protect against predators.

The sociability of the creatures makes them popular pets, although theyrequire some effort to care for. First of, they are mostly nocturnal with only a bit of daytime activity in the early morning and evening hours. Second, because their natural diet consists of the coarse vegetation found on the sides of the Andean mountain range, their teeth continue to grow throughout their life, requiring regular dental care if kept as pets.

Finally, the chinchilla cannot regulate its temperature through sweating. In the repurposed data centre, the advanced climate control system originally built to keep the servers from overheating makes sure that the furry friends are as comfortable as they would have been on the mountainside in their homeland.