Guinea pigs, or cavies, originated in the northern and western parts of South America. They were originally domesticated about 5,000 B.C.E. and are now found worldwide as pets, laboratory animals and as a source of meat.
Guinea pigs are no longer found in the wild; some biologists believe that the domesticated variety never existed in the wild and is the result of hybridization between closely related cavy species. They are highly adaptable and can tolerate a broad range of altitudes and a wide range of temperatures. Guinea pigs have been a traditional food source for natives of the Andes Mountains; they have also used guinea pigs in folk medicine and in social and religious ceremonies.