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 4, assumes that they have only been introduced by Christian
missionaries and colonial agricultural officers. Whereas Morales 26 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 37.
However Cavia porcellus have been
well-known domestic pets since their introduction to Europe in the sixteenth
century, from undocumented sources 46, 47; they became the prototype of laboratory models through the
nineteenth century 44. However they probably had a recent common ancestor around
the sixteenth century 44. In fact, molecular analyses of Peruvian cavies breeders 7 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 1, suggest
that improved cavies share a most recent common ancestor with the European cavy
which is not the ancestor of creoles 36.
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 38. Their wild relative, the wild cavy (Cavia aperea) still is one of the most common and widespread
rodents of South America 2, 32.
Domesticated cavies follow a three-step process 38: a first ancient domestication 46, 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 36; and a third step involving a modern selection regime of
creole cavies 7, to produce an improved animal for meat production known in
South American countries 26. This have been made possible, in recognition that cavies
can reproduce up to five generations per year 42 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. 13) 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 30. 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 27,
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
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 21.
Then, cavies became considered as a ‘medical treatment’ for malnutrition,
particularly in overcoming anemia 27.
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, 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 34 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. The importance of cavy culture at that time in Kabare
territoire have been recognized based on its prevalence and its reported
contribution to animal-source protein provision for children 14. Cavies are described to be 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 27.
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 17. This movement of animal may be one of the raisons why DRC
cavy are closely related.