Friday, April 08, 2016

A-Z Blog Challenge: G is for Guinea Pigs

and why they are commonly known as that I have no idea since they don't come from Guinea in Africa (or New Guinea, the big island just to the north of Australia, for that matter) and they certainly don't resemble the golden guinea, a coin that was part of British currency in circulation up to 1816. Nor are they related to pigs and, as far as I can see, have nothing in common with them at all - unless someone thought their loud squeaks resembled a pig (which they do not). The trouble is that the name guinea pig is firmly established in public usage and while breeders prefer the name cavy it's not likely to change in most places any time soon.

In fact what we know as guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus officially) are originally from South America. They are rodents which have been domesticated and as such do not exist in the wild. They are believed to have originated from a closely related species Cavia tschudii. In their homelands they are kept for meat and also used in folk medicine and religious ceremonies.

That's not the case in Western countries, though, where they are mainly kept as pets - and delightful pets they make. They are docile, friendly and surprisingly intelligent for such small creatures. When my kids were young we shared our lives with Pam and Barbara - named by my young son after two family friends, who I suspect would not have appreciated the honour had they known - and for a short time, the only male, Guinea (apparently he was running out of inspiration at that point).

The two females could not have been more different in personality. Pam was small, short-haired and exceedingly busy all the time. Whenever anyone went into the yard she would bustle over to the fence around the run and chatter noisily. She loved to be stroked and enthusiastically explored whenever she was let out and never minded being picked up. Barbara was much bigger with a longer coat and did pretty much nothing. She ate, drank and lay in the sun. We nicknamed her the Brick in the end. She didn't object to being picked up but nor did she show any interest. Guinea was a cranky little creature who died suddenly from no obvious cause but he did leave a memento when Pam unexpectedly gave birth to a single baby which sadly also died within weeks.

Pam and Barbara were with us until they died of old age and Pam at least was very much missed.


Jo said...

I saw a travelogue some years ago which showed the locals with guinea pigs running around their homes and they just picked them up and cooked them when they needed them. The traveller said the meat was delicious.

Never owned one as a pet but I have met other people's pets. They are cute.

Helen V. said...

I think I saw that doco, too, but I'd have to be literally starving to death before I did that and, having not eaten meat for many years, I'm not sure if I could even do it then. I read somewhere that during WW II some people kept them for eating, though.

Jo said...

I never heard that, didn't even realise they were edible until I saw the video. Matt's family kept rabbits for food during the war. I guess if you are hungry enough you will eat anything even if you are anti meat etc. It is human nature to fight to live.