When you look at guinea pigs, you see a cute, adorable little ball of fur. You can not even imagine how these cute animals survive in the wild. But animals have adapted to their habitat over many generations. Surely that’s true of guinea pigs, too, isn’t it? So how do guinea pigs survive in the wild?
The guinea pigs we keep as pets do not exist in the wild. Nor could these guinea pigs survive in the wild because they have been domesticated animals for centuries. However, they have close relatives that still live in the wild. These include the montane guinea pig, for example. These are specialized for life at high altitudes in the Andes.
So the guinea pigs we know and love as pets do not occur in the wild. But could they survive in the wild? How do their relatives live in the wild? And why were guinea pigs domesticated in the first place?
These are the questions we would like to address in the following chapters. Finally, we also clarify the question of what would happen if we tried to release our pet guinea pigs into the wild.
Can Guinea Pigs Survive in the Wild?
Pet guinea pigs cannot survive in the wild. They simply lack the survival instincts and skills to live in the wild. They would probably simply starve to death if they did not fall victim to a predator first.
To survive in the wild, you need different skills. These may be innate, i.e. instinctively present, or they may have to be learned.
Humans have the ability to teach ourselves new things, especially when it comes to our survival. For guinea pigs, however, it is not so easy.
To survive in the wild, guinea pigs must master two things in particular. The search for food and the recognition and avoidance of danger, especially when it comes to predators.
Domesticated guinea pigs do not have these skills. They have never learned how to find food in the wild. And they have also never learned which predators can be dangerous to them and how to recognize them in time.
By the way, this is also true for other animals. Many countries have initiatives that teach domesticated animals how to live in the wild. The goal is for them to relearn how to survive in their natural environment and eventually live there again.
Often these are captive animals, which were kept as working animals, in zoos or in the circus. So they are not even necessarily animals that were born in captivity.
Even these animals find it difficult to re-adapt to the wild and re-develop the necessary skills. The preparation process is very lengthy, usually several months. And even then, it is not certain that the animals will be able to cope in the wild again.
For guinea pigs, which have lived as domesticated animals for centuries, this process is even more difficult or impossible. They have never learned how to find food in the wild. They have also never learned which other animals can be dangerous to them. And they simply have no strategies to survive with the situation in the wild.
How Do Guinea Pigs Live in the Wild?
So now let’s look at how wild guinea pigs live. As an example, let’s take a look the montane guinea pigs (Cavia tschudii), which are considered the ancestors of domestic guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus).
The montane guinea pigs live in the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. They are quite similar to the domestic guinea pigs in some respects.
Wild Guinea Pigs vs. Pet Guinea Pigs
For example, they grow to a length of about 9 in, while pet guinea pigs have a length between 8 and 10 in. Like the pet guinea pigs, they also come in different colors. And they build burrows where they can find shelter. Pet guinea pigs also like to do this.
Another point they have in common is that they live in groups. This is advantageous for the animals for several reasons. As group animals, they use sounds to communicate.
They are also similar to pet guinea pigs in terms of reproduction. Their gestation period is about 63 days, while pet guinea pigs also average 63-68 days.
Litter size is 1 to 4, while in pet guinea pigs it is 1 to 6. Female montane guinea pigs can become pregnant at 2 months of age, while in pet guinea pigs it is possible at 4 weeks.
Perhaps this is an adaptation due to breeding, or perhaps it is because pet guinea pigs are exposed to fewer dangers. Thus, they can reproduce safely even at a younger age.
How Do Wild Guinea Pigs Live?
Depending on where they live, they inhabit quite different habitats. Mainly they live in swampy and rocky riverbeds and marshes. However, they also live in grasslands, brushy grasslands, and forests.
Montane guinea pigs prefer to live at a fairly high altitude. They usually live at an altitude of 6,600 to 12,500 ft. They don’t have many alternatives to living at altitude in the Andes either, but it probably has advantages for them. At this altitude, there are probably fewer predators that can be dangerous to them.
Montane guinea pigs build burrows with multiple entrances where they spend most of their time during the day. They are nocturnal animals, which reduces the danger from predators. They also raise their young in these burrows.
In principle, montane guinea pigs live as we would expect our domestic animals to live if they had to live in the wild.
However, montane guinea pigs know how to live in the wild and accordingly have the skills and instincts they need to survive in the wild. Pet guinea pigs, however, lack these.
Why Were Guinea Pigs Domesticated?
You may have heard that guinea pigs are considered a delicacy in some countries. And it’s not just recently, it was the reason why guinea pigs were domesticated in the first place.
The reason why guinea pigs were domesticated is so that they could be kept as livestock. This was a common practice among many indigenous peoples in the Andes. And even today, guinea pigs are kept as livestock in some countries. Mainly, guinea pigs are on the menu in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.
Can I Release My Guinea Pig into the Wild?
No, you should not try to release your guinea pigs into the wild. Guinea pigs are not able to survive in the wild. They lack the skills and instincts necessary to do so. Depending on where you live, the climatic conditions could also be unsuitable for guinea pigs.
We have already mentioned above the reasons why guinea pigs cannot survive in the wild. They are not able to find their food in the wild and are easy prey for predators.
So if you abandon your guinea pigs in the wild, there is a very high chance that they would simply starve to death. That would not be a nice end for the cute little pets. Therefore, you should not even try to release them into the wild.
If you are thinking about releasing them into the wild because for some reason you can no longer keep them as pets, you should rather try to find someone they can live with.
Maybe you can find a nice family with children in the neighborhood who would be happy to have some adorable pets. Or there is someone in the family who can take care of them. Or you can always put them up for sale. I’m sure there’s someone who would be happy to have them.
If you are thinking about releasing your guinea pigs into the wild for the love of animals, hopefully you should have already dismissed that idea after what we have said. It is not animal love to expose these creatures to certain death.
Pet guinea pigs cannot survive in the wild. They also do not exist free-living in the wild. They are the result of centuries of breeding as livestock.
However, they have ancestors that still live in the wild today. These live in the Andes at relatively high altitudes. Other than that, however, they have much in common with pet guinea pigs.
It is also not possible to release guinea pigs into the wild. They would not survive it and would probably starve to death. They simply lack the necessary skills and instincts for life in the wild.
Therefore, the best thing for your guinea pigs is to provide them with a loving home and take good care of them. This is how they have developed over a long time, and this is how they have the best life.