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Their History

This page, previously known as 'Where Did They Come From?', gives a breif history of the guinea pig, from their home in South America to our homes today.

Guinea pigs originated from South America where several different species can still be found. The ancestor of the domesticated guinea pig is thought to be the restless cavy, Cavia cutleri. The restless cavy lives in big family groups in the long grass, being protected from preditors by overhanging stems. They don't burrow for themselves but instead use abandoned burrows from other animals.

They can be attacked by meat-eating enemies so they are shy and get scared very quickly. Young cavies are not born in the safety of a burrow but out in the open. They are born fully furred with their eyes open and within two days after being born they are eating the same food as their parents.

Before the Spanish conquest of South America in the 16th century, the Incas kept them for food and even today the Peruvians breed them for their meat. Sailors, who were probably the first people to do so, kept them as pets and brought them to Europe from South America. Many people believe that is how they got their name the 'guinea pig', because the sailors sold them for one guinea and they make squeaking noises like a pig.
Five guinea pigs
Today many different breeds of guinea pig exist through the careful breeding and selection carried out over many years. Guinea pigs are nosey, friendly characters but they still retain some of their original habits, for example, very few guinea pigs will dig and they will rumage around looking for food.