Abandoning guinea pigs in winter

Guinea Pig Dead

One of the dead guinea pigs

Guinea Pig

The rescued guinea pig that required to have an eye removed

The Courier of 3 March carried a story of a timid tri-coloured guinea pig which was found in the Reid Park, Forfar, by a dog walker. The guinea pig was taken to a local vet and though it appeared to be OK there was no way of knowing how long it had been out in the snowy conditions or where it had come from, since the nearest houses were some way off.

The story reminded me of an incident which we dealt with as wildlife crime officers in Tayside, probably around 2005. A person who had been walking in Little Glenshee in Perthshire reported that he had found some dead guinea pigs near a roadside banking of whin bushes. He said there were ‘some small ones and some larger ones’ and he had also seen some live ones in the thick jaggy bushes.

I met the man reporting the incident and he showed me where these guinea pigs were. There were indeed several dead ones, unsurprising considering the freezing weather conditions in the month of December when the incident took place. There were also some ‘small ones’ as well, which the witness had not realised were hamsters, not guinea pigs.

It was clear that these poor wee beasties had been dumped in the countryside. Between the cold and predators such as stoats and weasels they had next to no chance of survival. Some of those that were dead had been partly eaten, though this might have been after death. It was sad to see the remaining live guinea pigs in the impenetrable bank of whins and I wondered how – if at all – they could be caught.

The nearest house, almost a mile away, was that of a gamekeeper. I called on him to see if he had some live-catch traps that we could use to try to tempt the live guinea pigs into. He provided several traps and some carrots to bait them and helped set the traps round the bank of whins. We agreed between us to check the traps three times a day, with him carrying out the early morning and late afternoon checks and me carrying out a late morning check.

Unfortunately only two guinea pigs entered the traps. These two might have been the only two remaining, we had no way of knowing. No hamsters were caught, nor were any live hamsters ever seen.

As had happened at the Reid Park, the trapped guinea pigs were taken to a vet, this time in Perth. One was quite healthy and recovered well after being warmed up. The other had a damaged eye, which had to be removed, though it recovered after its surgery.

This was a case that I was especially keen to solve. To release pet animals to certain death is cruel in the extreme and I worked closely with the media for help in tracing the person who had dumped them. I was sure that someone would be aware of a neighbour or acquaintance who had a shed-full of guinea pigs and hamsters one day and an empty shed the next day. Sadly there was not a single response to my media appeals. It was incredibly disappointing.

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