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The origin and History of Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs or the also called “cavy” (known as the cuy in the Andes) are originated in South America. The family Caviidae, to which the Guinea Pig belongs, first appeared during the Miocene. That means that they appeared more than 5.000 million years ago!

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Habitats

The wild guinea pig lives in a variety of habitats: rocky mountain areas, savannahs, and forests within an enormous area from Colombia and Venezuela to the north of Argentina. They live in groups of 10 individuals more or less and inhabit burrows. They are most active at night, when they look for food and it is not as dangerous to be seen by predators.

Traits

The hair of wild forms is generally longer than domestic short-hair breeds. However, it is shorter than the various long-hair breeds. Also the color is much less variable in wild populations than among domestic guinea pigs and it tends to be grayish or brownish.

Domestication

It is believed that the domestication of Guinea Pigs is as old as 5000 BC in Southern Peru and Bolivia, but there are only actual documents of exploitation of these animals by 900 BCE and there is archaeological evidence of this from 500 BCE.

Introduction to USA

In the 17th century, guinea pigs were introduced to North America and became popular pets here.  In 1910, the National Pet Stock Association was formed to supervise the breeding of small animals like guinea pigs and rabbits, and changed its name 10 years later to the American Rabbit and Cavy Breeders Association, ARBA. In time the association was split up in two, a rabbit association and a cavy association, to be rejoined later on. Nowadays, the American Cavy Breeders Association is a group within ARBA.

Introduction to Europe

In Europe, Guinea Pigs were introduced by the Dutch –although there is some controversy around this topic- and they were first domesticated in Holland. At that time, they were very expensive and only rich people could acquire them. Queen Elizabeth I herself owned a pet cavy, which may have contributed to its popularity. Luckily, nowadays, everyone can have one and it is really worth it!

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