Tag Archives: internet trends

Guineas Gone Viral: The rising prevalence of cavies in internet culture

16 Mar

Perhaps some of you have seen this hilariously awkward video making the rounds in recent months.

The video — which was released in Canada last November for “Movember,” the international month-long campaign dedicated to raising awareness of men’s health issues — has snowballed around the internet for the last several months until, in February, it started showing up in Facebook feeds everywhere. BuzzFeed, the news site that could be considered something like the Entertainment Weekly of cat videos and dress controversies, picked up on the video, and pretty soon, traditional media outlets all over the world were on the story, too.

But this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, national media carried reports last week of a woman who decided to quit her job to make videos of her guinea pigs after a clip she posted to YouTube went viral. Dominant websites like WikiHow have launched entire sections devoted to guinea pigs, and even BuzzFeed itself has created a special “tag” for web articles, especially photo essays, dedicated to guinea pigs — though, I’ll be honest, most of these articles just reappropriate the same half-dozen or so images to illustrate BuzzFeed’s usual brand of universally relatable humor.

But, with BuzzFeed calling guinea pigs “the new cats of the internet,” we may be moving away from that ever-persistent stereotype of guinea pigs as classroom pets or unusual companions for the socially impaired. This increasing online awareness of guinea pigs also appears to have translated into a real-world growing interest in showing cavies.

According to Mary Lou Eisel, the current president of the American Cavy Breeders Association, the number of guinea pigs entered in shows throughout the U.S. has increased by 14,000 in the last five years. For comparison, the number of rabbits entered in similar shows over the same time period grew by just 1,000 entries. For BuzzFeed author Matt Bellassai, the sudden popularity of guinea pigs is easy to explain.

“Their popularity rose, I suspect, because guinea pigs have a novelty (more so than cats), but also a familiarity (not so wild as, say, a chinchilla), and of course an undeniable adorableness (more than any other rodent),” Bellassai said. “Also, they’re just funny. It’s far funnier to put a tiny wig and straw hat on a guinea pig than it is to put one on a rat or a mouse or a cat. I don’t know why, it just is. It’s a combination, I think, of guinea pigs being cute and chubby and small, but also different and unexpected. Maybe one day, the internet will reach guinea pig saturation, like we have with cats. Until then, I think guinea pigs will keep rising.”

But there may be more to it than that. It’s not just that the internet has highlighted the fact that guinea pigs are cute, it’s that the internet has made information about guinea pigs, and guinea pig-related things, much more accessible than they once were. Consequently, whether cavy breeders have seen a recent spike in purchases of show- or pet-quality stock varies from one state or person to the next. But many breeders say they have found recent buyers to be more educated and more specific in their requests.

For the first time in decades, even the average first-time pet owner has access to the information they need to know there are alternatives to buying small animals at large chain pet stores. While this doesn’t always lead directly to growth within the cavy fancy — some breeders are quick to point out that the online culture growing up around guinea pigs has created a fetish for hairless guinea pigs, such as the skinny and the baldwin, which are not accepted as official breeds under the ACBA and cannot participate in official cavy shows — it may, in a roundabout way, bring more potential cavy fanciers into the world of cavy shows than did recruitment efforts in the past.

To recruit a new member into the ACBA once required that someone who was at least somewhat familiar with guinea pigs or animal husbandry, such as a pet owner with cavies or a breeder already raising dogs or rabbits, rub shoulders with a cavy breeder and take an interest in the hobby. Nowadays, all it takes is a spark of interest and enough curiosity to search “pure bred guinea pigs” on Google.

The cavy’s online presence has also allowed for added growth within the ACBA as well.

“I have purchased everything I have via either meeting the person online, or a completely online purchase — I have never met some of my cavies’ breeders in person,” said Tonya Slack, a cavy breeder from Minnesota. “If not for the internet, I would be purchasing pet store cavies and mixing breeds.”

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