Cavies are reported to have been domesticated at

Cavies are reported to have been
domesticated at least 4.500 years ago (Sandweiss and Wing, 1997) in the highlands of South America
providing the Indians with meat and sacrificial animals. However, opinion still
dived on the real ancestor of Cavia
porcellus as two wild cavy were known to be related; C. apera and C. utschudii.
These two wild cavies are known to reproduce with the domesticated cavies
fertile offspring (Kruska and Steffen, 2012; Kruska, 2013). Kruska and Steffen
(2012) observed when doing comparative allometric investigations on the skulls
of wild cavies (Cavia aperea) versus
domesticated cavies (C. porcellus)
that C. apera is the ancestor of the
domesticated cavies. “Cavia tschudii” mainly distributed in Peru and
Chile being considered as a subspecies of the species Cavia aperea, which is widely distributed on the South American continent.
This have been based on configuration of the upper M3 occlusal surface of all
the wild Cavia aperea including those
from Andean regions but also from far northern and far eastern distribution as
well as of the domesticated cavies. When comparing chromosome (Weir 1974;
Künzel and Sachser, 1999) as well as DNA investigations (Trillmich et al.,
2004), these different authors suggested the origin of domesticated cavies from
Cavia aperea.

However, Recently Spotorno et al.
(2004, 2006, 2007) revitalized older assumptions, when investigating the origin
of domesticated cavies by use of molecular genetic methods as well as skull
measures and some other morphological traits. As a result they derived all
domesticated cavies from a species Cavia
tschudii with a distribution in the East Andean regions of Peru and
northern Chile rather than from the species Cavia
aperea of adjacent Bolivia.

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In this study, domesticated cavies
from DRC clustered with C. utshudii
and far apart from C. apera while
using cytochrome b gene sequences. However phylogenetic inference determined
that Cavia porcellus species share
hereditary characteristics with para phyletic group Cavia tschudii and Cavia
aperea animals confirming Cavia
porcellus offspring from Cavia
tschudii (Diaz et al., 2016).

The history of cavy introduction in
DR Congo is not known. Their origin is however speculated as well as the route
of introduction. It is believed that they came from South America but the real
country of origin is not yet clearly established. Two possible introduction to
Africa are reported; Blench (2000), assumes that they have only been introduced
by Christian missionaries and colonial agricultural officers. Whereas Morales
(1995) suggests that the misnomer ‘Guinea pig’ may have inferred from the European assumption that cavies came from the
West African coast of Guinea after being imported from South America via the
Guinea slave trade ships. From this study, it appears that all DRC cavies were
clustered with a pet cavy from Argentina and Europe as well as with some
individuals from Peruvian domestic cavy. It is there clearly showed that
domesticated cavies in DRC were most likely from Peru and Colombia and have transited
by Europe before their introduction in Africa. This would suggest as well
various introduction of animals from the two countries. However, depending on
their small size characteristics they still comparable with their closely
related cavies (Criollos) which still be founded in rural areas in Latin
America. The present South American populations are probably the descendants of
pre-Columbian lineages. Whether Andean and laboratory/pet breeds are
genetically distinct is uncertain (Spotorno, 1982). However Cavia porcellus have been well-known
domestic pets since their introduction to Europe in the sixteenth century, from
undocumented sources (Woods, 1993; Woods and Kilpatrick, 2006); they became the
prototype of laboratory models through the nineteenth century (Wagner and
Manning, 1976). However they probably had a recent common ancestor around the
sixteenth century (Wagner and Manning, 1976). In fact, molecular analyses of
Peruvian cavies breeders (Chauca, 1997) differentiate with the prolific,
large-sized cavies exhibiting a calm behavior (improved cavies), and the
small-sized, nervous ones (the “criollos” = creoles), typically found in rural
houses (Archetti, 1997), suggest that improved cavies share a most recent
common ancestor with the European cavy which is not the ancestor of creoles
(Spotorono et al., 2004). Cavies brought to Europe were then subjected to
further selective breeding leading to the common domestic form that is nowadays
used as pets and laboratory animals (Spotorno et al., 2006). Their wild relative, the wild cavy
(Cavia aperea) still is one of the
most common and widespread rodents of South America (Asher
et al., 2004; Asher et al., 2008 and Rood, 1972).

Domesticated cavies follow a three-step
process (Spotorno et al., 2006): a first ancient domestication (Wing, 1986),
from the wild species to the domestic pre-Columbian cavy, still bred as the
‘criollo’ (creole) breed throughout the Andean countries; a second step
involving European peoples, who took a few in the XVI century and transformed
them into the present worldwide laboratory/pet cavy (Spotorno et al., 2004);
and a third step involving a modern selection regime of creole cavies (Chauca, 1997),
to produce an improved animal for meat production known in South American
countries (Morales 1995). This have been made possible, in recognition that cavies
can reproduce up to five generations per year (Trillmich, 2000) and concerning
the length of the domestication period they thus have lived under this
influence for much more generations than have the other domesticated lagomorphs
and rodents and even than the other so?called classical domesticated forms
(e. g., dog, sheep, goat, cattle, pig, etc. (Kruska, 2013)) which led to very
different cavies categories. From Europe cavies have been then introduced to
Africa during precolonial period.

However in DRC, the period of that
introduction still unknown. It has been conveyed that the first cavies were
held in the catholic convents in Sud-Kivu, led by Belgian and Italian Jesuit
missionaries, probably starting around the early 20th century, when the
Catholic Church established itself in the Bushi area (Nkunzi, 2005). In the
early colonial period, local people had no specific interest in cavies. Though,
some of those working in the convents introduced the animal into their villages
(Mugisho, 1995), probably to supply meat to their children. Many people,
however, thought cavies were a kind of rat and, hence, adults scorned their
children’s animal inside the houses.

However, the chaos caused by the
succession war for the Mwami Kabare (1985-1987) resulted in widespread famine
and high levels of malnutrition, especially in children (Makungu, 2006). Then,
cavies became considered as a ‘medical treatment’ for malnutrition,
particularly in overcoming anemia (Mugisho, 1995). Some NGOs, such as Comité
Anti-Bwaki5, recommended that children received cavy blood, mixed with Coca
Cola and tomato concentrate to overcome the condition. The belief that cavy
blood and meat has a health-improving effect especially for children
perpetuates until today, also in other parts of the country (B Kajinga-Mutombo,
2013, pers. comm.).

In a survey conducted in the early
1980s in four mountainous localities in Kabare territoire of Sud-Kivu near
Mulungu, Schoepf and Schoepf (1987) found that in one third of the 160
households visited, older children raised cavies, which they consumed. This has
to be seen in the context where mothers usually leave starchy staples prepared
in the home before they leave to the fields; when children return from school,
they prepare cavy stew by themselves. Kunze et al. (1991) recognized the
importance of cavy culture at that time in Kabare territoire based on its
prevalence and its reported contribution to animal-source protein provision for
children. Mugisho (1995) describes cavies as “omnipresent” in Mulamba
groupement in Walungu territoire, the large majority (83%) of 40 interviewed
households from four villages kept cavies successfully for a long time, meaning
at least since independence in the 1960s.

All DRC cavies were clustered in
only one group with less differentiation. When establishing a nucleus of cavies
for a selection program in the Institut supérieur agro-vétérinaire in
Mont-Ngafula in Kinshasa in 2008, populations were introduced from the Kivu
provinces, Lubumbashi and different villages and cities in the Bas-Congo province,
such as Kimpese and Kisantu. Strong cavy nuclei seem to thrive unnoticed in all
these areas as very few official reports are to be found that mention cavies
(Maass et al., 2013). This movement of animal may be one of the raisons why DRC
cavy are closely related. 


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