Pig Cavia porcellus
ancestors referred to this gentle, timid animal as guinea-pig, believing
it to come from a British colony overseas, probably in the East
Indies. As we all now know it is widespread throughout the mountainous
spine of South America, enthusiasts prefer the name cavy, believing
this to be more accurate - doubly so, as the animal is a rodent,
and definitely not a pig of any sort.
South America, cavies were food animals and a fundamental source
of domestically reared protein. They were maintained in social groups
in the bottoms of terracotta jars or urns.
domesticated history probably spans many thousands of years, so
it is little wonder they are available in so many coat colours and
types. The basic coat is smooth, with rough or Abyssinian (in wiry
rosettes) and Peruvian (long-haired) being common. Cavies are unusual
in their lengthy gestation - ten weeks - with the young being born
fully furred, with their eyes open, rather like European hares.
Initially, they remain huddled in a tuft of grass, but start to
nibble solid foods at about five days of age. They become independent
at five or six weeks and may even breed at three months. There is
a school of thought that all female cavies should breed when young,
as fist and subsequent births are much easier if the pelvis is still
flexible. Cavies are happiest in small family groups. When kept
like this the female invariably becomes pregnant again - actively
seeking out the male - within a few hours of giving birth.
wild ancestor is likely to be the agouti-coloured cuis.