Monday, November 29, 2010
Last week, as I pulled my car into a parking space at Howarth Park, I saw something small moving oddly through the underbrush in the woods above the parking lot. I gathered up my gear and my dog and went closer to explore. Before I'd gotten very far, I knew that I was looking at a nearly forgotten friend from my early adolescence, though in a decidedly different habitat than that of my pet guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) from many, many years ago. This guinea pig was hopping awkwardly about, stopping every now and then to eat some of the new grass sprouting all over the park. He was decidedly unconcerned as I drew closer but only to a point, at which he scuffled off at a distance.
Chloe and I went on our way and when I got home, after our walk, I set about refreshing my memory about guinea pigs. I found that much of what I remembered was wrong.
Guinea pigs originated in the Andes and were domesticated long ago, as a food source. There are some close relatives still in the wild but but it's not certain that the domesticated pig is descended from any of them. Although Guinea pigs are still raised as food in in the Andean highlands, they were enthusiastically adopted elsewhere as exotic house pets beginning in the 16th century, when European traders brought them back from their travels to the New World. I was relieved to find that guinea pigs still retain a preference for cool weather over hot, as our night time temperatures have been about 30 degrees F (-1C) for nearly a week.
Back at Howarth Park, I returned the next day with some fruit and vegetables which the pig devoured with great enthusiasm, as long as I kept my distance. I began an internal debate about whether to attempt a rescue or allow the pig to live a shorter but certainly more exciting life at Howarth Park. I wondered if the pig missed the humans who abandoned him, or if life at the edge of the park was a welcome and exciting change from the more sedate, but possibly very boring domestic life of a household pet in a cage. Trying to imagine myself in this guinea pig's place, I felt that life in the wild would be my choice, in spite of the increased danger and hardship. When I told a friend about my predicament, she thought she'd prefer the cage or, rather, the steady supply of food and easy lifestyle. So, I'm trying to split the difference by taking food with me when I go to the park to walk.
I hadn't seen the pig in a couple of days, because I've been going early in the morning when it's still cold and he seems to wait, as do many of the native inhabitants, for warmth before venturing out for breakfast. Yesterday I finally got a chance to see the pig, in the late afternoon, when I dropped off some food but he's adapting well to life in the wild and was gone before I got close.
Animal Diversity Web
The Humane Society of the United States