It's been a busy few days! Last Wednesday I got an alarming answer phone message to say that 10 guinea pigs had been dumped on a derelict farm near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and had subsequently been caught by the landowners. However, they had seen at least 3 more but couldn't catch them because they had hidden in the brambles! They had no plans to return to the farm where they kept their sheep (and hadn't been there for two weeks so don't know when they were dumped) so weren't going to attempt to catch any more. Stunned I phoned foster carer and friend, Lucy to see if she could help. Thankfully I was able to get time off work and Lucy and her boyfriend, Alex were able to meet me at the site the next day. The landowners had also mentioned that Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue ( http://guinearescue.blogspot.com/ ) had given them my number and gave the impression that they couldn't help. However, on calling they were able to take the piggies caught already, just not able to get to the location due to the distance and having rescue piggies birthing and on pregnancy watch already.
On Thursday I arrived first and wasn't sure I'd got the right place as the site was a very dilapidated farm with crumbling buildings, a locked farm gate and brambles, lots of them. The owner had warned me and I'd looked it up on Google maps but nothing quite prepares you for miles of brambles when the task at hand is guinea pig catching! After climbing over the gate I had been instructed to walk left and I'd see the hutch. Still not sure I pushed on and indeed saw a hutch poking out from behind a massive bramble bush. That was when I saw a family group of 4/5 guineas nibbling on the grass! I froze but they'd already spotted me a retreated in to the brambles. At this point the gravity of the task ahead got to me and although still hopeful I was feeling pretty negative. Luckily I'd bought some hedge loppers at B&Q on the way over!
I started cutting back the brambles behind where the group were hiding in an attempt to make an inroad in to the brambles to move them out towards the hutch and hopefully in to it so we could catch them. Lucy and Alex arrived and the look on their faces reinforced my negativity (sorry guys but your faces were a picture!). There really didn't seem to be any hope of catching them See the photos below for what we were up against. Thankfully Alex is in the TA and thought to bring his protective camo gear! He offered to tunnel in to the brambles to flush the piggies out to the waiting hutch and carriers lined up type trap. I'd also brought along some long poles to help steer them in the right direction. After an hour or so of chasing them backwards and forwards and some near misses we started to get them close to the hutch. I can't remember if the first one actually went in the hutch and we managed to catch him like that or whether he was so close that we caught him in front of it but either way we did it, we finally caught one! After that we got them all fairly quickly one by one until the group we'd seen were all safely in the carriers. A couple of adults and then youngsters of varying sized, including some 2 week old babies. Exhausted we checked the area and couldn't see any more but with all the brambles others could be anywhere.
Lucy and Alex had a long drive ahead of them to collect the 10 (which turned out to be 11) already caught from the landowners house 20 minutes drive away, then on to Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue with them all (thankfully Suzy had agreed to take the ones caught that day as well) and home again to Aberystwyth! (I might add they had to go to GGPR anyway to collect their pig Pugsley who had been boar dating there!) So we decided to call it a day as there wasn't much I could do by myself and we hadn't seen any more despite a thorough search. I left a food bowl full to the brim in the hutch so that when I returned I could see if it had gone down. The next day I returned to see no piggies but the food had been nibbled at and there were paw prints on the side of the food bowl. I wasn't sure if it might have been rabbits but could only see pig poos in the area. I'd taken the opportunity to drop off some donated hutches off at Pembrokeshire Hogspital (http://www.wobblyhogs.moonfruit.com/ ) whilst in the area, so was able to come back on my way home to check the hutch after dark. I refilled the food bowl and attached a full water bottle thinking that only domestic animals would know how to use one and then I'd know if there were still piggies there. There was also a white plate that had been left by the landowners with some food when they caught the first lot. I noticed it was covered in pig foot prints. It gave me an idea taken from a wildlife programme I'd seen where the numbers of rats in an area were estimated by the number of foot prints on a white tile. So I wiped the plate clean and positioned it in front of the hutch entrance to see if piggies were going in the hutch still. The hutch was full of caked on pig poo and very wet so paw prints would be left by any pig leaving the hutch.
I returned after dark and snuck up to the hutch hoping to catch some sheltering or nibbling piggies and shut the door as quickly as I could. At the last second a small white and ginger pig shot out and I caught a glimpse of him disappearing in to the brambles under torch light. Feeling a complete failure I tried to see where he went but had to leave as in the dark by myself there was no chance. However, we knew there was at least another pig still there and he was sticking close to the hutch so that was good news. Saturday I was unable to round up any helpers to go back to the site but Lucy could come back all the way from Aberystwyth (about 1 3/4 hours from the site!) on Sunday. I'm over an hour from the site but no one else could help and we couldn't leave them there.
Sunday Lucy and I arrived and tried sneaking up to the hutch again but alas no piggies in the hutch. We looked around and eventually saw a pig eating fallen apples. It turned out that the bramble forest had once been the farm orchard! On seeing the agouti, ginger and white pig with distinctive markings it dawned on me that it certainly wasn't the pig I'd had the near miss with previously. So there were at least two more to catch. Not only that but the one just spotted was in brambles that we couldn't get round the back of to flush them out because the clump wasn't so much a clump but a fields worth and literally went back miles We then spotted another pig in the same area - the ginger and white I'd nearly caught before. Undeterred we set about making inroads in to the brambles around the section they were in so we could bring them forward in the tried and tested method. Although with just the two of us we weren't all that hopeful. Several metres of bramble cutting later we managed to get almost all around the little mount they were sat munching on. Then the fun of trying to catch them began! Some how with just the two of us and lots of swearing and scratched arms and faces we managed to catch one. The last one was a close call as trying to catch the first one we scared her in completely the wrong direction towards the miles of bramble bushes. At that point the landowner showed up with a tractor (they'd previously said they hadn't planned to visit the farm again for a long time) that needed to get passed where we were in to a field. It was then we spotted the second pig in a dense part of the brambles where the tractor needed to go and would either scare her god knows where or crush her. The farmers wife came over and gave us a hand and we caught the last piggie! I say last, I really hope so.
Again I've left a full water bottle (not that they've used it) and a full food bowl in the hutch and plan to visit again to check. Although my car was making some very strange noises on the way home yesterday so it might not be until this weekend when I'm next off work and have had the car looked at. The two last (hopefully) piggies caught were two little girls and although small are around 5-6 and 7-8 weeks going by their weight but may be older due to their poor start in life. Unfortunately they may well be pregnant. They are just so tiny it's hard to imagine. As Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue now have 59 guinea pigs with 11 females on pregnancy watch from this rescue alone, the last two females are staying here at Rhydowen Rodent Refuge for now but may go to Lucy to foster.
Well if you've managed to read all of that you deserve a medal but hope it was worth it! There have been a lot a highs and lows but the highs have been amazing and I can't thank Lucy and Alex enough for their sheer determination. And of course Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue for taking the piggies.
Photos of the location:
The locked farm gate the dumpers must have hauled the hutch and guinea pigs over and and the derelict farm house:
The hutch just poking out from behind the brambles: More of the hutch location and flattened brambles around the hutch and determined guinea pig catcher Lucy looking out for more piggies:
The hutch just poking out from behind the brambles:
More of the hutch location and flattened brambles around the hutch and determined guinea pig catcher Lucy looking out for more piggies:
Decimated brambles and tunnels in to them:
The apple tree and tunnel next to it's base:
The last two piggies caught 10/10/10 after a much needed bath: