Where The Wild Guinea Pigs Are
Guinea pigs are a popular household pet in many countries, but like rabbits, which live almost everywhere in the wild and can often be seen in farmlands, few people have ever seen a wild guinea pig. Do wild guinea pigs even exist? What do they eat? How long do wild guinea pigs live? All these questions and more will be answered in this article.
To address the first question, do wild guinea pigs exist?The answer is both yes and no. Domestic guinea pigs originate from cavies that live in the Andes, a mountain chain that extends along the western coast of South America. The Andes are the longest mountain ranges in the world, so the guinea pigs you have in your backyard have some pretty proud origins.
However the guinea pigs we keep as pets today are not the same as wild cavy species. Wild cavy species include the Brazilian Guinea Pig, (known as a 'Prea' in Brazil) which was one of the species bred with other cavy species to create the modern domesticated guinea pig. The Brazilian Guinea Pig can mate with domestic guinea pigs, however the female babies of these matings will often be infertile. The Brazilian Guinea Pig weighs up to just under a pound as an adult, reaches maturity at between 70 -80 days, has a gestation (pregnancy) period of about 65 days and usually gives birth to three pups.
Through various methods of genetic analysis, scientists have concluded that the modern domestic guinea pig is most certainly a hybrid of the Brazilian Guinea Pig and other as yet unknown, species of cavy.
The first domesticated guinea pigs were brought to the West by traders in the 16th century, and since then they have become very popular as pets because they can be very docile and friendly and also lend themselves well to breeding. Since their introduction, several different breeds of guinea pigs have been created, from the long haired Peruvian, to the albino, to the crested guinea pig.
But Westerners were not the first ones to domesticate the guinea pig, not by a long shot. The first guinea pig / human interaction is recorded as early as 5000 BC (that's about 7,000 years ago). The Peruvians were said to worship the guinea pig, though it was first domesticated as a food source. Cavies are still a popular source of food in some regions of South America to this very day, though they are also often kept as pets and in some parts of Bolivia, Guinea Pig Races are held.
So, next time you're tempted to dismiss guinea pigs as being boring pets, remember that the modern domesticated cavy is something of a genetic mystery, and although it is very common, it is also highly important and respected in many cultures.