California’s Giant Guinea Pigs and the Cuys Criollos Mejorados
These are in fact, not a new type of guinea pig. They bear a striking resemblance to the Cuys Criollos Mejorados commonly raised for food in South American countries such as Peru. Here are some characteristics they share with the Cuys:
- Always red, red and white or white in color (It is not acceptable to eat dark colored Cuys in Peru);
- May have Polydactyly, a mutation caused by inbreeding that results in extra toes;
- Weighing between four and eight pounds when full grown (average guinea pigs weigh about two pounds);
- Larger features, such as wider ears and huge feet.
Most of these Guinea pigs are feral and difficult to tame, especially if they have reached adulthood without much handling. They also possess superior jumping skills, and cannot be kept in an uncovered cage.Several inside sources at Petco have revealed that these guinea pigs are indeed imported from Peru. Why would Petco import guinea pigs from Peru? It is likely that purchasing the Cuys is somehow more cost effective; since they are raised for meat and not for pets, they may wholesale for less. In addition, purchasing small animals from a meat grower instead of a pet breeder may furnish a loophole for Petco to escape inspection by APHIS, the division of the USDA that regulates pet breeding facilities. Since many of Petco’s distributors in recent years have been investigated and charged with animal cruelty and neglect, the company may be seeking creative ways to avoid further negative publicity while maintaining the profit margin. Further inquiries to Petco went unanswered.
The difficulty for rescues lies in the fact that these Cuys are not desirable pets for the average American family, most of who are interested in guinea pigs as docile pets for their children. The Cuys are incredibly strong and difficult to tame. They seem to have more fear of humans than domestic guinea pigs. Because of their wild nature, they are much more likely to be relinquished to a shelter than regular-sized guinea pigs. Even more disturbing are reports that the Cuys have a shorter lifespan and are prone to heart disease. Rescues are receiving reports of sudden, unexplained deaths before the age of three years old.Concerned small animal rescues contacted several government agencies to inquire about oversight on the practice of purchasing and selling the Cuys. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, in California, the Department of Health Services Food and Drug Branch regulates the slaughter and sale of exotic animals for meat. However, the Cuys are being sold as pets and not slaughtered, which would be illegal in California according to penal code section 598b. It is not illegal to raise guinea pigs for food in California, as long as they are slaughtered elsewhere. It is not illegal to sell “meat” guinea pigs as pets.
Inquiries to other government organizations went nowhere. APHIS does not regulate slaughterhouses or facilities where animals are grown for meat. The California Dept of Fish and Game regulates the importation of non-native species. However, it will require genetic testing to prove that the Cuys are not the same species as Cavia porcellus, the common domestic guinea pig. They are most likely genetically very similar. Many of the guinea pigs raised for food in Peru are the same size as the domestic guinea pigs in the United States. The Cuys Criollos Mejorados are the results of selective breeding designed to produce larger, meatier animals for food consumption.In recent years, the promotion of guinea pigs as micro livestock has become very popular, especially in developing countries where raising cattle is problematic. In other words, the Cuys are not likely to go away anytime soon. None of the regulatory agencies are willing to claim jurisdiction over the sale of meat guinea pigs as pets. Cuys have started appearing in other pet store chains such as PetSmart and Kahoots. Since they appear similar to regular-sized guinea pigs when young, consumers may have a difficult time identifying the Cuys in pet stores. When they grow up to be wild giants, impossible for children to handle, they will continue to land in the local shelters.
Animal rescuers recommend that people avoid purchasing animals from pet stores. It perpetuates the existence of pet mills, which rely on supply and demand. In addition, the potential for purchasing a sick, mis-sexed, or pregnant animal is high, especially when dealing with rodents. Now there is even one more reason not to purchase animals from pet stores: the chance that you could receive a wild, untamable, short-lived, giant mutant—instead of a small, docile, family friendly pet that lives six to eight years.
See University of California publication 8146, “Selling Meat and Meat Products.” http://ucanr.org/freepubs/docs/8146.pdf “598b. (a) Every person is guilty of a misdemeanor who possesses, imports into, or exports from, this state, sells, buys, gives away, or accepts any carcass or part of any carcass of any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion with the intent of using or having another person use any part of that carcass for food. See http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=594-625c
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