When autumn is upon us and the
telephone calls have started to flood in about 'a little baby hedgehog' (!) that
has been found.
Do we need to be taking these in now for the winter? Do they really
need to come in at all?
Over the last twenty plus years I have often asked myself these
Numbers are always a problem over the winter and now that the climate
is changing so much, I really feel it should be the weather that rules
what we do and not our hearts, or what we have done
in the past.
Winter 2002-3 in the middle of England
did not get really cold at ground level until early January 2003.
The hedgehogs that are wild were still about at Christmas (and enjoyed
some left over turkey).
The ground did not really freeze until the second week in january 2003.
It was then that the hedgehogs went into hibernation.
Prior to that we had the odd cold night, a little ground frost but the
wild animals were still about.
So often it feels cold to us, because of the wind chill factor but it
is not really cold at ground level.
Hedgehog Release 2002-3
So I arranged the release of all the
animals I had in my care well into December and a few in the first week
They were all 450-500 grams. (I like my animals to be lean, mean
machines, not over-weight).
All the hedgehogs had been hardened off outside and had not
hibernated; they may have gone down for an odd night but not gone
into full hibernation.
They were all going back where they were found, in a situation with a
release box and the finder who would continue to feed them with a few
hedgehog biscuits on a regular basis.
The animals were marked and monitored. The general public love to have
"their hedgehogs" back.
Not only does it educate them but also helps keep the correct balance
of hedgehogs in the area.
I have been using this method for at least five years now. The wild
animals tell me what to do.
best for them?
Why keep animals in over winter in
unnatural circumstances, putting them under stress when they can go
back in the wild where they belong?
It is our duty as carers to do what is right for the animal and not
what we as humans think they would like.
It also gives you a break from the daily routine, enabling you to do
all those things you need to do but do not have time for.
Of course there will be the odd animal which is not fit to be released
but generally the animals, once they are of hibernation weight, should
and involve the Public
So often these "little baby hedgehogs"
turn out to be 350 - 400g animals. I now ask the general public who
telephone me the following questions:
does the animal weigh (make sure this is not a guess, it needs
to be correct).
Ask them to put the hedgehog in a
small plastic container and find out the total weight.
Then they just need to weigh the
container and subtract this to find the actual weight of the
If the answer is that it weighs
more than 350g then it is OK.
2 Why did
they pick it up?
So often I get the answer " I
thought they should be hibernating" or "I thought it was a little cold
This is a great chance for you to
thank them for caring but to put them right.
Try to educate them, you never
know, if they get really interested they could help you out and become
If the animal was doing normal
wild hedgehog things why bring them in?
Ask the finder to release the animal
where they found it as the animal will know that area.
Also ask them to feed the hedgehogs and provide water in a flat dish.
Let them know what food is best.
If in a garden situation suggest they mark the hedgehog on the spines
with a pale correcting fluid like Tippex.
They can then watch out for their hedgehog and perhaps weigh it again
in 5-6 days time and keep you informed.
These calls take time but as carers it is our duty to to do what is
best for the animal and not put it under any more stress than is
We know hedgehogs can put on weight really quickly with a good quality
cat or hedgehog food, so why not help them out in the wild,
rather than in the unnatural circumstances of
bringing them into care.
With the finder looking after these just under weight animals, it will
give you space and time to look after the animals that really need your
If people turn up with under weight animals without calling, you should
apply the same logic; if the animal still falls in the above criteria
it should be sent back
after you have explained your reasons. Once I have
explained the reasons I have never had anyone not take the animals away
and release it.
I always take the caller's name and number and if possible (99 of 100
times) I will call back to check that the hedgehog is still around and
This paper was presented by Janet Peto at the European Hedgehog
Research Group 5th Workshop in Onferno, Italy.
Published in The Rehabilitator, Newsletter XXXVII Autumn 2003 of the
British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.
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