The Great Escape – Part 1
Eutamias (Siberian chipmunk – sp. Eutamias sibiricus)
Recently Britchy of Bitchin’ in the Kitchen asked if l had any experience with Chipmunks and l can honestly say hands upon heart that l truly do! This is a very much loved rodent species of mine. Long before l started galavanting with the likes of llamas, raccoons, coatis and other what nots my exotic brokerage business was principally started on the back of my commercial rodent business. Rodents therefore were my first introduction into all the other animal species that followed over the years.
The chipmunk as a squirrel is/was a very popular and endearing species that not only private collections sought but also they were in a huge demand from the likes of garden nurseries, small animal parks and wildlife parks and centres due to the animations of the species themselves, in other words they are a great little animal to simply watch, and serve as a tremendous tourist attraction for centres that did not have huge budgets for larger species, and the required enclosures to keep them secure within.
I started breeding chipmunks in 1996, after l saw a pair of natural agouti for sale in the local paper, and it wasn’t long before l too became utterly captivated with these charming little animals. I was enamoured by them so much so, that the following year l purchased a small but well established breeding colony of some 15 animals, which comprised of a breeding male, and some 9 breeding females, the remainder were youngsters from that year. What was also lovely about this particular group was that it was made up of 3 albinos, 5 cinnamons and the rest were the natural agouti or wild colour more people are familiar with.
Where l was located at the time with my business was on a haulage firm in Market Deeping, Lincolnshire that happened to have portacabins available to rent, which were sited on the adjoining farm, because the two owners were brothers, so it was a very amicable arrangement for both parties.
In those days, l ran 6 portacabins with my animals. One was used for gerbils only, another for mice and hamsters, another for rats, one each for rabbits and guinea pigs and the final cabin was used purely for my chipmunks. Each of the cabins measured between 20 – 45 feet long,and you gained access to them usually either at the end or in the middle.
The chipmunk cabin measured 45 feet long and you gained access from the end and when you entered if you looked immediately to your left, there was a small space of around 12 feet deep by about 12 feet wide and about 8 feet high. In this space was my custom built wooden framed and wire enclosure for my breeding pair, whom had had a small litter of their own earlier in the year. However if you looked to your right, there was a much bigger enclosure for the main breeding group. Their space was around 30 foot long, by 12 x 8 a much much larger space reflective upon the actual numbers.
I had spent a lot of time making these internal enclosures and making sure they were secure, because rodents being rodents and in case you don’t know ‘rodents from the latin rodere which translates to ‘to gnaw’. So all enclosures for the chippies had to be 1005 secure otherwise the blighters would simply chew their way out. In order to encourage them to NOT do that, l recreated in each enclosure a mini natural envionment for them. They had logs and branches and hidey holes, leaves, rocks, trunks and in fact anything you might be able to think of naturally l had there, but l also made rope climbs, tyre hides, nest boxes, the lot. Each enclosure was the same, and each enclosure was entered via a very solid door with a metal frame.
I wanted them to feel comfortable within their environments, so they would breed. They were fed a top quality diet and one that l lovingly tried where possible to recreate to as natural as possible consisting of nuts, grains, seeds, worms, fungi, insects and plant and vegetable matter.
What l used to love about the chipmunks was that you could walk into each enclosure and just sit on the floor and wait, and then they would all come to you and play on you. the youngsters especially had no fear, they were inside your clothing, sleep in your pockets and if you weren’t careful, you could easily walk outside with a sleepingchipmunk and not know if. I know this as it happened a couple of times!! They were just incredibly and remarkably friendly and loving.
Sounds really lovely doesn’t it …. ?
Okay, so let’s roll on to the year 2001, when those portacabins holding the chipmunks were now very well established and were confirmed breeders. Chipmunks once established can breed twice a year with the average litter size ranging from 4 -7, sometimes these litters can be as high as 11, and as low as 3, but the average l was enjoying was about 5. All the young once at the required age which for my sales were around 9 weeks old, although many sold them younger, but that was them, not me, were sold and over those years l bred perhaps 300 – 400 youngsters. The colonies were now quite large and l had to manage the ratio of male to females with responsibility. Too many males and fighting would occur, too few and breeding suffered, too few females the same results, so it was a very specific case of livestock management.
in 2001, in the large colony l had 8 breeding males and allocated roughly 3 females to each male, so l was running quite a few. In addition to what l bred for sale, l was also importing from Europe huge quantities of captive bred stocks. between 1997 – 2005, l probably handled close to 3500 chipmunks.
In addition to ensuring that the management of the stocks and the ratios was equal, every six months l had to undergo security measures with the portacabins – because they were rodents and they could gnaw, so the last thing you wanted to have happen was an escape …. famous last thoughts in truth! The one l haven’t said yet, is that all the portacabins had glass windows which allowed for light. stands to reason doesn’t it?
Except because they were glass windows with metal frames, l never once considered putting mesh over the windows. nope, not once!!!
Part 2 Soon
A lot of people when they meet me, think l am a really laid back kind of guy ………. to a certain extent this is true. I am like this because l don’t have a lot of stress in my life, this is NOT to be confused with ‘that l am not anxious’, because sadly l am constantly anxious. Stress walks hand in hand with me most days, but l am much better at controlling my anxiety now that l was say …ooh l don’t know for starters maybe 17 years ago?
I don’t mix with lots of people, l am quite a homeward bound sort of chap now, live in a bubble many a time, don’t go pubbing, or clubbing, live in a secluded village of sorts occupied mostly by the elderly, especially in this part of the village where l live. It’s very quiet here, noise is viewed more often than not as an intruder. I have learned over the years to avoid stressful situations. I also learned sadly back in 2005 that one of the main stressors for me was the one thing l loved the most which was the keeping and breeding of many species of smaller animal. It was one of the reasons that l stopped maintaining animals and moved 100% into the brokerage side of the business, not the only reason, but a reason that both my doctors and counsellors suggested at the time.
I survived back then on very little sleep, smoking like a chimney, eating a poor diet and on a huge ball of adrenalised anxiety. Which apparently is not ideal for a healthy lifestyle.
Why have l mentioned this? Keep a watch out for Part 2 of this story!
Meanwhile – enjoy this!