Can you believe that our adorable pet guinea pigs actually came from wild guinea pigs? Guinea pigs originally came from South America in the 16th Century. They used to be really expensive to purchase too!
Only the wealthiest of people could afford a guinea pig. They were bred to have eye-catching multicoloured coats. Even Queen Elizabeth I had a guinea pig as a pet! The wealthy often love to include multicoloured guinea pigs in countless paintings.
Above is a painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder. It shows multicoloured guinea pigs!
Guinea pigs have been rising in popularity over the last decade. This is thanks to their friendly and gentle nature making them the perfect pet for all ages. There are countless sources to learn how to adequately care for guinea pigs. Plus purchasing items such as hay,guinea pig food, water bottles and cages/ hutches are inexpensive.
In some parts of the world, there are dedicated organisations to guinea pigs. They specialise in the breeding of specific breeds with varying coat colours and textures.
Find Out More:
- Do Guinea Pigs Still Exist In The Wild?
- Breeds of Wild Guinea Pigs
- Wild Guinea Pig Behaviour
- Wild Guinea Pigs Extinction Rating
- In The Wild or Wild At Heart!
Do Guinea Pigs Still Exist In The Wild?
Yes surprisingly, wild guinea pigs do still exist today! Whilst we know our domesticated pets by the term guinea pig, their wild cousins are referred to as “cavies”. They tend to live in large groups for safety. This means there are more eyes looking out for predators than if they were in a small group.
Wild Cavies live in South America, Brazil, Paraguay and the small coastal island of Moleques do Sul Archipelago.
Breeds of Wild Guinea Pigs
There are actually several breeds of wild cavies, some rarer than others. We will take a look at them all below:
Montane Guinea Pig
Living in the South American Andes mountains is the Montane Guinea Pig. It is of medium size. Plus it grows to a total length of 247mm. The colour of their coat varies from dark reddish-brown, mixed with black to light brown with a pale underbody. Some agouti olive with white underbodies has also been spotted!
They have long thick fur to keep them warm since they often live at altitudes between 6,600 and 12,500 feet!
Brazilian Guinea Pig
The Brazilian Guinea Pig (Cavia aperea) can be found in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Their coats are usually dark brown with yellow-grey underbellies. They grow to around 11 inches long.
They are strict herbivores like their domestic cousins and are active during the day. However, they are longer and narrower in appearance though.
Wild Shiny Guinea Pig
Endemic to Brazil, the wild shiny guinea pig (Cavia fulgida) lives in Atlantic Forest. Not much is known about this breed of guinea pig.
Greater Guinea Pig
Living along the coastal strip between Brazil and Uruguay, the Greater guinea pig (Cavia manga) can grow to 12.2 inches long! They also weigh 1.4 pounds.
Santa Catarina Guinea Pig
This is a very rare breed of wild guinea pig. The Santa Catarina Guinea Pig (Cavia intermedia) is endemic to the coastal island of Moleques do Sul Archipelago in Brazil. With its habitat measuring only 9.9. acres, it makes it the smallest in the world for a wild mammal!
There are also said to be a few other breeds of cavies living out in the wild, however, there is inconclusive data on them. This could be due to them living on remote islands or any reporting of them being false.
Wild Guinea Pig Behaviour
In 1999, a study (The Behavioral Endocrinology of Domestication: A Comparison between the Domestic Guinea Pig and Its Wild Ancestor, the Cavy) was conducted to determine the differences between wild cavies and their domesticated guinea pig cousins.
It concluded that wild cavies were far more aggressive than our domesticated pets. Furthermore, they appeared less socially included than our tame piggies.
Interestingly, it was discovered that wild cavies paid less attention to their physical environment in terms of cleanliness and visual appeal than our domesticated guinea pigs. This means that our piggies visual appeal to their environment shifted when they became domesticated.
Wild cavies tend to burrow and use rocks for shelter. They can traverse rocky and turbulent terrain also. They also live and travel in packs gaining safety in numbers. Wild cavies also feed and groom in groups.
Dangers In The Wild
There is a multitude of dangers that wild cavies face as small rodents. They are prey animals and their predators range from owls, wolves, coyotes and even wild cats! Snakes have also been known to enjoy a guinea pig as a light meal.
Unfortunately, wild cavies also have to fear humans. Often humans may hunt them for food, or remove them from their natural habitat in order to breed and sell them for money.
Wild Guinea Pigs Extinction Rating
Thankfully the majority of wild cavies extinction rating is least concern! Whilst there is no specific breed plan in place to protect wild cavies from extinction their prolific mating abilities should be sufficient enough to avoid extinction.
Unfortunately, the Santa Catarina Guinea Pig is listed as being critically endangered. This is due to them living on a small island that people have free access to. There is also no strict protected area enforcement in operation.
In The Wild or Wild At Heart!
It’s amazing to think that there are still a thriving community of wild guinea pigs living out there in the actual wild! Our domesticated guinea pigs are saved from so many of the dangers that their wild cousins face on a daily basis! There are many ways we can keep our guinea pigs healthy and encourage them to follow their wild instincts!
From digging and burrowing in their hay inside a deep tray to foraging for food in hay bags, hay wheels, and even treat balls!. Ensure your piggie always has access to clean drinking water, fresh hay and specially formulated guinea pig nuggets.
They look like small rabbits from afar! I heard that some countries tend to eat them, and wild guinea pigs might be hunted for food.