I think I might be the only biology major in Southern California who had never been to Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Every semester at school somebody brings it up, and every time I feel like my scientist cred goes down just a little bit – I’m not sure why, it’s just never happened! Last Monday, I finally had the opportunity to venture out there for a very unexpected reason.
My friend Michiko posted on Facebook about a colony of about a dozen guinea pigs that had been dumped at Bolsa Chica, and asked if anyone could come help her attempt to catch them.
Yeah, you read that right. Catching. Guinea pigs.
I haven’t had as much time as I would like for rescue lately, so when someone is in need and I happen to be available, I jump on it. Next thing I know, I’m in Huntington Beach with a few other friends I’d never met before, crawling through bushes, trying to catch guinea pigs.
I’ve caught stray dogs, cats, and rabbits before, but it’s always been on much easier terrain and sometimes still took several days and multiple attempts. I definitely thought there was a chance we could spend hours out there and go home empty handed, and so did Michiko. But one by one, we slowly started catching pigs, and over a span of about 4 hours the 8 of us had caught all 9, including a baby who was about 2-3 days old.
The pigs had found shelter in some dense shrubbery, where they were able to scoot through little openings in the brush without being seen. One method we found that worked was to block one or more of the openings with a towel (shown above) or our arms, luring them toward us with veggies, and staying still as statues until one person was able to swiftly grab them with their hands.
Toward the end of the 4 hours, there were only 2 pigs left – and as much as we didn’t want to leave them overnight, we started thinking we might have to give up and try again tomorrow. An idea came to me that I’ve used before in cat rescue and trap-neuter-return: sometimes, it’s possible to use one cat or kitten you’ve already caught to lure a resistant one into a trap. This is especially useful for reuniting mom and babies. A mother cat who isn’t interested in tuna might be more likely to respond to her meowing kitten.
We weren’t sure if either of the remaining pigs were our little one’s mom, but Guinea pigs are herd animals, and typically live in groups of hundreds. As we started catching pigs, we saw the ones remaining becoming less confident. Even if we weren’t trying to catch a parent, I thought their tendency to seek safety in numbers could help us out.
We took our tiny baby piglet, loaded him up securely in a small carrier, and took him with us back under the bush. Sure enough, he started wheeking right away. I’m not sure if my strategy actually worked, or it was just that enough time had passed since the last catch and the remaining pigs were getting more confident, but soon enough we had the last two! (It may have also been that we were getting desperate to catch them, and more willing to dive into what felt like tumbleweeds.)
Grateful for the amazing rescuers at Orange County Cavy Haven who facilitated this mission, and for the other volunteers who showed up at a moments notice to help some piggies. These little ones are being fostered through OCCH, so please visit occavyhaven.org if you would like to donate toward their care, foster, or adopt.
To learn more about why #AdoptDontShop is important for small animals, check out my blog post: Is it time to commit to pet-free pet stores?
Lastly, a reminder that abandoning any kind of animal is not only unkind to the animal, it disrupts local wildlife, and is considered a misdemeanor in some cases. Don’t do it!