(TMU) – Saddled with an inexplicable name, the so-called guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), does not come from Guinea, nor, as a rodent, is it related to pigs at all.
However, they are related to rabbits, being of the same family, but of different species. Apart from both being mammals and social and herbivores with furry coats, they are distinctly different in physical appearance.
The humble guinea pig, also called a cavy, was first domesticated around 500BC and bred for food by tribes in the Andean region of South America (the southern part of what is now Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia).
The indigenous people used selective breeding from around 1200 AD to the Spanish conquest in 1532, and developed different varieties of guinea pigs, forming the basis for some of today’s popular modern domestic breeds.
Being such an easy animal to domesticate for breeding and feeding their communities, the cavy has remained an important food source throughout the ages. Ancient traditions, such as offering guinea pigs as gifts and their use in social, religious and traditional healing ceremonies continue.
Introduced to Europe in the late 16th century, the guinea pig very quickly rose in status, from food source to being a sought after exotic pet, highly in demand by high society and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I.
There are no prizes for guessing why humans taking part in medical experiments are referred to as ‘guinea pigs.’ The poor guinea pig has had the misfortune of having too many similarities to a human’s biology, and thus has ended up being used in medical research for centuries.
It all started as far back as the late 1700’s when French biologist Antoine Lavoisier used guinea pigs in his study of respiratory physiology, from where it escalated with no end in sight. Animal rights organisations and activists continue the fight to put an end to experimentation on animals.
Hopefully, people’s love for these adorable animals will prevail and flip the ‘guinea’ to save the day.
When it comes to pets, these ancient little creatures now come in many different breeds, thanks to selective breeding centuries ago.
There are many different breeds which include 13 breeds recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association which include the Abyssinian, American, Coronet, Peruvian, Silkie, Teddy, Texal and White Crested guinea pigs – each being unique in their own way.
They are not only rich in personality, but also sport beautiful coats ranging from short, curly to long tresses even Rapunzel would envy! Naturally, as any human with gorgeous hair can confirm, it takes time and daily grooming to maintain the beauty and sheen, and ultimately steal the show.