The Great Escape – Part 3
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!
Where was l going to start? How was l going to remain calm and tackle this enorous task? Keeping calm was going to be the optimum to ensure success. A chantra was possibly the way forwards?
“I will be successful, l am successful, l have been successful!” Yeah, like that’s really going to cut it!
The two Bobs were sitting side by side looking at their dad in his get up, lumbering around the various nets and cages almost quzzically, and if l didn’t know any better appeared to be grinning. “Right lads, where be the Chippies then?” Bob looked at his brother Bob and then miaowed and walked under the portacabin and miaowed again, whilst the second Bob walked around the back of the cabin and miaowed. Was this a clue? Amidst all the clutter under the cabin, were there some little sneakies?
Yes, as it happened there were! 4 albino youngsters sitting there looking at me and the two Bobs! A simple netting and they were caught, well l figured this is going to be easy maybe, easier than l had originally thought. So with these youngsters trapped and quickly transferred to the temporary cage inside, l now only had roughly 21 animals left, were they going to be so easily caught?
I looked at the clock on the wall, blimey it was nearing 11am already and pretty soon that transport was going to be here and although l had the youngsters required, the rest of the shipment wasn’t ready! They say time is of the essence, and l knew that if l was to break off from the capture that time would work against me, so all l could do was carry on and explain the situation to Ron when he arrived.
Ron arrived later than planned, in fact he turned up at around half eleven, by that time l had caught another 2 youngsters whom had literally walked up to me and had almost begged for me to put them into the cage. The number was now only 19 left. Ron basically said he would help me capture the outstanding members of the colony as l was his only pick up for the day and so there was no rush. He had been delivering to the area and as it was a warm day indeed, the stocks were better off where they were, and the stress levels of the youngsters would be greatly reduced by staying where they were for the time being.
Two was way better than one and l still have the fascinated attention of the two Bobs whom were especially useful with their non aggressive hunting skills, and in literally an hour Ron, Bob, Bob and l had caught up the remaining youngsters with an added bonus of actually capturing more than l thought had escaped originally. Luckily the youngsters whilst curious had stayed together in 2′ and 3’s.All in all now, l had a total of 42 youngsters, meaning l still had just and hoped only the adults to ensnare!
With the confidence of Ron, l had managed to stay somewhat calm, however at around 3pm Ron suddenly decalred that he would have to go, but what he would do was come back mid week and collect the order then, he bade me both farewell and good luck. “Capturing the adults Rory is going to be a long, arduous and l think potentially painful experience. Here take my gloves they are thicker, l have been in this situation before, and when they bite they aim to remove parts of your fingers!!”
In addition to losing Ron, the two Bobs had also got bored and moved into the fields for bigger game, so now l was left alone and feeling somewhat overwhelmed at the task ahead of, trying to fight down the panic. a voice behind me brought me to my senses. “So what’s the score then matey, how many are outstanding, thought you could use a hand and we have come prepared!”
Turning around, l saw Pete, the haulage manager with his brother Richie and three of the haulage lads, standing there looking absurb but welcome. They all had on either huge overalls with huge welding gloves, or goggles and both the brothers were donned in protective bee keeping outfits and all were armed with the sprayers used to calm bees, nets and walkie talkies!!
“Why the smoke Pete and why the white suits?” I asked.
“Well the white is a non aggressive colour you see and Ron before he left said you were starting to get a little stressed, Rich and l figured that the smoke may flush the adults out. Ron said that the adults were going to be bastards to capture and might be somewhat viscious when handled? Now with the job we do, our hands are pretty tough, and we figured they would probably take a bite or two, but when Ron said that they could take fingertips off, we had a rethink. We have a slow day today and have been watching the antics and figured it might be some light hearted fun and help you out?”
They were right, now l had a team of five who wanted to help, the walkie talkies were a strategic blessing, if an animal was spotted, they could tell the others without alarming the animals and causing further stress or equally as important losing sight of them. We were also bloody lucky it was June and the days stayed lighter for longer, but also because it was a haulage firm, if needed they said they would set up the search lights – wow how awesome would that be l thought, to have the entire farm and site lit up like a giant football pitch!
With us all working together things became much easier and as the day slowly started to creep away, successes were made. By 6pm we had managed to capture 14 of the missing animals and in fact the only 3 left outstanding were males. All the others had been caught up with ”very” little mishap and by this l mean a couple of bites to arms, one ear and one nose [mine]. I was astonished at just how far some of the animals had managed to get to in consideration. Luckily most had strayed not far from the initial escape point.
However it was the last 3 males that were the right sods, they we were led to believe were really enjoying being out and even more so loving the attentions of everyone trying to remain calm but chasing after them. By 7.30 pm, only 1 animal remained out – the lead breeding male! The others had given up and surrended and given in to treats by Rich who had simply sat down on the asphalt drive and waited for them to come to him. They still had some fight to them though, and in order to make things easier, he had taken off his gloves to encourage them up his legs and sit in his hands. The pair had done exactly that …
And as they sat there on his hands, he had caught them both, by slowly cupping them. But their bite is indeed painful and bloody, and seriously bloody painful and lethal for such a small animal, and one bit him through the soft fleshy part of the thumb so severely that it snagged a tendon and after they were placed into the holding cage. Rich had to take himself off to hospital with his wife to get the rip seen to as the blood wouldn’t stop flowing! The phrase, may be small , but mighty came to mind!
The remaining chipmunk was not hard to spot, he was an albino, and when inside the enclosure hadn’t looked that big an animal, but outside on the run like some kind of deranged and laughing and chirruping beast – he looked huge!
He was bloody fast and l was remarkably and constantly in awe of his ability to both run and jump at speed considering his small size in consideration to say a normal sized squirrel species. In short he was imp[ressive and he knew it. He was fully aware of the run around he was giving us all, and was not in the slightest bit fazed. So much so, many a time he took to running out of his hiding space and running between the legs of his persuers, or jumping down on them from atop higher ledges, and it was more than once during that day that hw was seen on the heads or shoulders of his would be chasers! But nothing we could do could motivate or enthuse him to actually give himself up!
In the end, l had to make an executive decision, people had to stop and get on with their lives and not dedicate anymore of their time to one white chipmunk who was playing silly buggers. I called a halt to everything at 10.30pm, l had been chasing squirrels for over 14 hours and was tired and hungry but worse than that, l still had all the animals to feed and water, as well as repair the enclosure, even if just temporary. It was pointless going home, so simply stayed and attended to everything, and by the time l was done, it was nearly 6am the next day.
The chipmunk, had been in my sight the whole time, he was sitting on one of the portacabin rooves and kept jumping between the buildings watching me, but every time l went outside to try and lure him in, he laughed and jumped away again.
I never caught him, but he became a regular to the workshops and l learned a few years after that day, that Richie had finally manage to capture him, but befriending him with nuts and treats, and pretty soon the pair became inseperable till “Whitey’s’ death in 2012, a bloody good innings for a chipmunk if l say so myself! Richie used to walk around with Whitey on his shoulder or peering out from his pocket in his overalls.
The Great Escape taught me a lot about chipmunks, and that if anything was one of the best learning curves of that whole stressful day. That as much as they loved their indoor enclosure, when not stressing l had watched and observed their behaviour outside, and what was clearly apparent was that they liked lots of space and the freedom to really run and jump. So over the next three months with the help of Pete and Richie, we built two enormous cages for the chippies. they were constructed like fort knox!
There was a double door entry system, and side wire tunnels shooting off outside the sides that led back into the cage. A concrete base, because what many keepers don’t realise with chipmunks is that they are superb burrowers and if they can dig out – they will, but equally rats would burrow and tunnel in. The enclosure measured perhaps 25 by 25 feet wide and long and around 10 feet high. This allowed for that running and jumping movement we had seen.
When l left the premises in 2002 l gave the brothers the cage and the animals as a thank you gift. They loved the chipmunks, and so did their kids and where l was going, l didn’t have the space for two large enclosures. But also and more importantly, l learned a truly valuable lesson that day which was ‘that more space is never too big when it comes to captive freedom’ of animals and when l sold the species on l always insisted they they go into as large an enclosure as the keeper could provide, otherwise l refused to sell them, hence why in many respects l sold more chipmunks to private game parks, small zoos and special entertainment venues or garden nurseries who could provide ample space.
So there we go Britchy, sorry for the length of the story, way too long for one post alone. As a species, chipmunks are an adorable little animal, they are highly animated, incredibly vocal and a possess a sweet aptitude to life and they are if anything – highly entertaining … until they escape!