First – thank you for the many people who took time to read through the last post and the many many comments. I was surprised at the depth of feeling and hope that I have not re-started any once forgotten problems.
Reading through what has been written, I think I have a better handle on my position. Or at least a way of expressing it:
- No wild animals should ever be taken from the wild and kept as a pet.
- I think that hedgehogs, of whatever species, belong in the wild.
- Pet hedgehogs (African species, possibly hybrids, and possibly subject to 10 or 20 generations of captivity) are unable to be returned to the wild.
- The welfare of any hedgehogs that are kept in captivity should be paramount.
- Breeding hedgehogs for profit is likely to lead to a reduction of the quality of conditions in which hedgehogs are kept.
- If you are going to look after a pet hedgehog then please use this position to help promote the really important issues surrounding the well-being of ‘real’ hedgehogs out in the wild.
- ‘They are just so cute’ is NOT reason enough to keep an animal in captivity (these are not animated teddy-bears).
So – my first list … and I am expecting that there are people out there who might be able to add to this, or critique ideas that are there – so please do!
And with respect to that last point – here is a link to a video on youtube featuring a pet hedgehog
– which is designed to increase awareness of and interest in African (pygmy) Hedgehogs as potential pets. The message is good – that hedgehogs do not digest lactose well … we know that – NO to bread and milk, whatever your parents might have said (or even the illustrious Podushkas
) … though I have to say there are great alternatives that do not involve the exploitation of cows. But, the use of a cute hedgehog will only make the demand higher and the risk, I fear, is that this will tip the UK situation from one where a few (frequently delightfully odd) folk keep hedgehogs as pets to one where the horror of the ‘must have fad pet’ emerges. And however well those few people who do breed hedgehogs keep their animals, and however much they may abhor the idea of this becoming a craze; there would be no craze if it were not for the few good people keeping interest in the animal as a pet alive. So everyone who is involved with keeping the offspring of the original Atelerix albiventris
and Atelerix algirius
must consider that risk and consider their culpability.
I know it might come as a surprise, but my life does not revolve around hedgehogs – I do have other interests, and this blog is going to slowly morph to include far more British wildlife as my new book gets closer to publication. The Beauty in the Beast
is, in my opinion, even more fun that A Prickly Affair
… there are still hedgehogs, but there are also many many more wonderful animals. So, get pre-ordering! (after you have commented on this blog, of course)
Author Daniel Allen invited me to a meeting with two pet hedgehog breeders in hope, I think, of a fight. He is writing a book about exotic pet keepers and their animals and has been on a peculiar tour of coatis, pythons, raccoons and ant-eaters in search of a bit of understanding as to what motivates the choice of these unlikely house-guests.
My position on pet hedgehogs is pretty well known. Having had a brilliantly eccentric time in Denver, Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Hedgehog Show, I was well aware of what the pet hedgehog world can generate. And I have written about the sporadic attempts by exotic pet breeders in the UK to kick-start a fad-pet craze.
So I arrived at the strange venue, a sort of service station merged with a farm-shop, ready to defend my position – that there is no good reason to stimulate the interest in pet hedgehogs in the UK.
Daniel was already in place with Helen Gill and Louvain Greyfaulk. And they had been joined by a young woman from Cardiff, Tayer Witchell, who was there to pick up a baby hedgehog from Gill and hand over a young, furry and impossibly cute, rabbit.
Helen runs a pet shop in Cheshire – Simply Seahorses; Louvain had travelled up from Berkshire who describes herself as a house wife and hobby-breeder of pet hedgehogs. Between them all, they help run a web forum that assists in re-homing abandoned hedgehogs. And they had all descended on Birmingham for the fight arranged by Daniel.
How disappointed he must have been! I must have had a rare attack of diplomacy, and the three women were delightfully odd. And, in retrospect, I am seeing something odd in me too. I am getting older. I am (and there are some who would argue this is about time) developing a more nuanced attitude to previously straightforward black and white issues.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still some definites in this debate. I think that any time wildlife is incorporated into the ‘free market’, wildlife suffers. Wild animals must not be taken in as pets.
But what of exotic pets? When does an exotic pet stop being a ‘wild’ animal? How many generations in captivity before they are no longer wild?
Another ‘definite’ position is to do with welfare. But I am wary of getting drawn into welfare issues before I have got the ‘rights’ sorted out in my mind. Is it right to keep an animal as a pet? I would say that yes, it can be, if the animal has an enriched existence. Clearly someone who mistreats animals, whether wild or domestic, is contemptible.
You can tell I did not study philosophy, this argument is not very clear yet. But what I am getting to is the problem of pet hedgehogs in the UK. My instinct is to say this is wrong. And I base that not on the impact on the African species that have been bred into glorious array patterns and colours, but on the impact on the one species I have studied and grown to love, the Western European Hedgehog. My worry is that, should the numpties win and pet hedgehogs become a must have fad pet craze, unscrupulous folk will try selling off our hedgehogs as pets. Additionally, there is the impact on wildlife hospitals, who are in the position of not being able to release these pet hedgehogs when they are brought in, and are also not in a position of wanting to support the pet industry by putting the hogs back into the system.
But – and this is where Helen and Lou came in – there are already many people out there with pet hedgehogs. How many? No one knows. But they are there and they need the best advice as to how to look after their hedgehogs. And they need a support network so that when they get bored, they can at least have the animals cared for and re-homed. And this is what they offer through their web-forum.
Before any answers, some photos … because there were two hedgehogs in attendance, and this is where there is a clear conflict again – they are, undeniably, cute.
My conflict? I am not keen to support something that could lead to problems for our wild hedgehogs. But, there are pet hedgehogs out there that could benefit from support. And the pet hedgehogs can, and are, used to help raise awareness and fund that help wild hedgehogs. Both Helen and Lou have raised funds for wildlife carers and have spread the word about our wonderful Hedgehog Street.
The result? No fights but lots of talk. I remain on a rather wobbly fence. I would be horrified if there was a craze of pet hedgehogs, it would be disastrous for their welfare and for the wild hedgehogs too. But I would also like to see pet hedgehogs that are already there being kept well, and, when possible, being used to help promote the cause of our wild hedgehogs.
So, now I turn to you lot! What do you think? Am I being naive in not railing against pet hedgehog breeders? Am I being harsh on exotic pet keepers? Give me your thoughts and I will see if I can focus mine a little better too!
ps – I got to cuddle one too:
I was visiting my mother this weekend and found myself browsing the bookshelf in the old playroom – and while much of the evidence of childish times has gone there was a block of books that stood out. Blue Peter Annuals from 1972 to 1980. My first book, their ninth, was a complete treat for me as a six year old. I thought the world of John Noakes and Shep.
Flicking through these Annuals I found I recognised so much – though why they insisted on putting Valerie Singleton in such odd period costumes escapes me. Blue Peter was a very important part of my childhood.
So, can you imagine the tremor of excitement when the wonderful folk at Firebird PR (who do so much to help the People’s Trust for Endangered Species) told me that Blue Peter might be interested in doing a hedgehog feature and that I might be involved?
I add the ‘mights’ as I am well aware of the slippery nature of Auntie Beeb – not everything that is promised comes to light … but the mights grew stronger and stronger. I secured some stunt hedgehogs from Hedgehog Bottom Rescue, near Reading (thanks Gill); Firebird found some willing school children and I ironed my shirt (this was getting serious).
To prime myself I watched an episode on i-player – oh my … how young …
But unfortunately the children have aged – the show is now aimed at 10 yrs + … so my wonderful duo of Mati and Pip were too young to be part of the show.
And then last Friday it really happened. The Blue Peter team were great – the weather was toe-teasingly cold, I was very glad I pilfered my wife’s down jacket – and the presenter, Naomi Wilkinson – showed how that sort of work should be done. The interview segment was focussed on Hedgehog Street – how to make gardens hedgehog friendly and interconnected.
Then a wonderful thatcher called Kit stepped in to help Milly and Joe make a hedgehog house. Which then lead up to the finale – where we placed the hedgehog house under a big bush and I introduced Gill’s ‘stunt ‘hogs’ to the show.
photo from Hedgehog Bottom Rescue
These two hedgehogs had been in her care for a while and will be released when the weather is a little milder. We made the point that these were ‘stunt’ hogs and that hedgehogs should not be out in the day … people always complain, but I really think it is important that we seduce people with images of hedgehogs, and then, when they are drawn in, we can educate them.
As I placed the hedgehogs in front of the newly made hedgehog house I declared that, obviously, they would not go into it right away. At that, Rogan, one of the hedgehogs, took a look at me and decided to prove me wrong, by making a bee-line for the entrance tunnel and disappearing.
photo from Hedgehog Bottom Rescue
This resulted in general amazement – I was thrilled! And then, a little later, we took the back of the box and propped a night-vision camera in the opening, allowing them to film Rogan entering the hedgehog house from a different angle. What a very excellent stunt ‘hog.
I am so excited about this – the short film will be broadcast on Thursday 9th February at 1745 on CBBC, and repeated on Friday 10th February on BBC1 at 1630. I am excited because I will be on Blue Peter, obviously, but I am mainly excited because this has been a great opportunity to talk to a different audience about the importance of making your garden not just hedgehog friendly, but wildlife friendly. What is good for hedgehogs is good for so much else. And our project – run in conjunction with the PTES and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – Hedgehog Street – is such a great way to get people and their communities involved.
It is possible, however, that the main thrill has come from this …
I now have a Blue Peter badge … something that the six-year old me, looking at the wonderful John Noakes doing derring-do, dreamt of earning.