First things first! The motto I and every other wildlife enthusiast live by is this; take only photographs and leave only footprints. If you find a wild animal that appears to be distressed you should only interfere if absolutely necessary. Seek advice from a rescue centre if you are really worried.
An example of a case when interfering might be deemed necessary; you spot a hedgehog running up and down the gutter of a very busy duel track road, the rush-hour traffic thundering past within inches of this vulnerable creature, and the ‘hog is unable to climb onto the grassy central reservation. You know that within the next few minutes this creature will be killed beneath the wheels of a car or truck unless you step out into the busy traffic and pick it up. Then you worry about the fact the hedgehog you pick up is so tiny that it fits in the palm of your hand and is completely unbothered by the big warm hands around it; it hasn’t curled up into a defensive ball the way hedgehogs should – it seems to have no survival instinct! Worry further when the mother is nowhere to be seen…
This was the situation my friend found himself in 3 weeks ago. He has, many times in the past, brought traffic to a halt while rescuing a terrified ball of quaking hedgehog from the fast-lane, and usually placing the hog on a nearby grassy verge is enough to see the hog scurry off to safety. But, as detailed above, this time was exceptional circumstances and these events unfolded, by happy coincidence, only meters from my workplace and just a few minutes before I finished work. So I was greeted that day by my friend with the tiny mite of a hedgehog on his car’s passenger seat the moment I clocked out!
My friend asked what we should do, I had a choice:
- Release a very young hoglet back into the wild immediately. But we had to consider such questions as;
On which side of the road was its mother?
Where was the best place to let it go?
Was the hoglet able to look after itself?
Why was this chiefly nocturnal animal out and about in the middle of the day anyway?
How stressed was it?
Was it hungry/dehydrated?
Is it worth giving it food, water and warmth whilst seeking further advice?
- Or we could take the hoglet into our care for food, water and warmth whilst seeking further advice, but I didn’t want to take a wild animal in unless absolutely necessary.
But would 24 hours of safety give the wee one a head start; 24 hours to consider the best place for its release?
Should it be with a rescue centre?
It’s so small, would it make it through the night?
Would it make it through the winter?
It’s early September, nearly autumn, and it’s so small… will it gain enough weight to hibernate?
All my instincts were telling me that this hoglet needed more help, and possibly more help than I knew how to give. I took the decision to look for its mother again and so we returned to the duel-carriageway and walked the length of it while the hedgehog snoozed in the passenger seat of my friend’s parked-up car. The mother was sadly no where to be found.
My friend and I took the hoglet home for warmth and food. I knew what to give the hoglet by way of food and moisture as I’ve had some previous experience with rehabilitating hedgehogs. As the hoglet settled in, warmed by a hot-water-bottle and quickly demolishing the dog food we gave it (it was famished!). Then phone numbers of rescue centres were looked up.
I called our local Hedgehog Rescue Centre, a voluntary organisation that I’d helped a few years ago with underweight hedgehogs. I half expected them to say, “let the hedgehog go”. I also half expect them to say, “bring the hedgehog in to us”.
The Rescue Centre’s expert asked me a few pertinent questions about the size of the hoglet (smaller than a tennis ball when curled up – weighed 80 grammes – very small); its health (bowel movements small, black and of a toothpaste consistency – healthy); and whether I knew of a place to release it (my Mum’s garden is big, provides protection from predators, is some distance from a busy main road and gives plenty of access to other gardens). Based on the answers I gave I was encouraged to keep the hoglet in my care (if I was willing and able to accept the responsibility) and get it up to hibernation weight – 600 grammes – before releasing it. I should keep it in a box or hutch – inside of the house was not a bad thing – and provide cat/dog food for it, with a few cat/dog biscuits or mealworms as supplements. I should do this over the next couple of weeks, and once up to weight, and after a few days of good weather, release the hedgehog into my Mum’s garden. The Rescue Centre also encouraged me to contact them again if the hoglet’s health deteriorated or if I needed further advice and assured me that they were willing to welcome the hedgehog to the Centre if the task of caring the for little mite proved too difficult for me.
So, it was decide that (Spike) Milligan the Hoglet would be the houseguest of me and my flat-mate for a short while!
The next day, upon hearing of Milligan’s story, a kind colleague gave me packets and packets of cat food! Her cats won’t eat lamb or salmon, so she gave me the lamb variety before headed off to the rescue centre (the one that had helped me) to donate the remaining salmon cat-food packets! Plenty of hearty food for a growing hoglet! Especially with some additional cat biscuits!
Since then I have been playing nurse-maid to Milligan (in the most hands off way possible). Feeding, cleaning out, hot-water-bottle replenishing and – a once a day – a weigh-in. It’s been paying off; Milligan has gone from 80g to 170g! So, until my new resident is 600g, I shall keep you informed of his progress!
One final thought; Milligan is not a pet. As my flatmate has pointed out in his own bemused way; we’re sharing our household with a wild hedgehog. We do not pet or play with Milligan, and we’re not in any respect trying to tame him; if he is to survive in the wild once released he needs to know how to be part of British Wildlife.