In Boston's Bradford Hotel last week, some 14,500 people milled through a maze of cages, inspecting hundreds of fluffy little animals with faces like rabbits and tails like anemic squirrels. The animals were chinchillas; the occasion was the Eastern show of the National Chinchilla Breeders of America, a sort of Westmin ster Kennel Club for rodents and the trade association for one of the strangest businesses in the world.

Last year the nation's 8,600 U.S. chinchilla breeders did a total business of $10 million, selling live animals to each other and to newcomers in the game. Prices are high, ranging...

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