Guinea pigs make very rewarding pets, especially for children. They are fairly clean and are placid, happy characters. They enjoy human interaction provided they are handled from an early age and communicate using their voice with a variety of squeaks, whistles and purring noises. They can live for 5-8 years and, as they are social creatures they should be kept in pairs or groups. (See the section on neutering for more information.)
The guinea pig - Cavia porcellus - is a species of rodent. Despite their common name, they are neither related to pigs nor from Guinea. They originated in the Andes in South America, and were domesticated around 5000 BC, being kept as a food source. Spanish, Dutch and English traders brought guinea pigs to Europe, where they quickly became a popular as a household pet - Queen Elizabeth I owned a pet guinea pig, a fact which very likely contributed to their popularity.
In South America, wild guinea pigs inhabit areas such as forest edges and swamps, living in groups of up to ten individuals and inhabiting burrows. Some South American cultures treat guinea pig as supernatural beings, and folk doctors use them to diagnose various diseases.