Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are regular visitors to school grounds, parks, gardens and yards. There are many different opinions about hedgehogs. Some people call them pests; some call them gardener’s friends. Others say it depends whether they live in a suburban backyard or an area of native bush inhabited by native species.


Regardless of what you label them, hedgehogs are living beings with needs and feelings and unfortunately they are an animal that is often found sick, injured and suffering. When we care about  living creatures, we never want to see any in pain and suffering. So here, we offer some information about hedgehogs and some tips on what to do if you should happen to find one that is in need of help. 

The hedgehog debate

When early European settlers brought their crops to NZ, they also accidentally brought many of the unwanted bugs, slugs and insects that came with them.  This meant they quickly needed a cure as their crops  were being gobbled up by these garden pests. 

The ideal cure was a prickly garden pest-eater called the hedgehog. So hedgehogs were brought to New Zealand and for the past 100 years, we've gone along with the idea that the hedgehog is a kind of garden  helper, munching up garden bugs that would otherwise be eating our fruit, vegetables and plants.

BUT... the problem is when hedgehogs find their way into areas of native bush.  This is where they are now known to eat the eggs of riverbed breeding birds such as the banded dotterel and black-fronted tern.   Hedgehogs have also been known to eat chicks of a variety of ground-nesting birds and small native insects and reptiles. Due to these additions to the hedgehog’s diet, they are now regarded a pest in many regions. 

Of course it is not the poor hedgehog’s fault. They are not bad creatures and they didn’t choose to come to New Zealand. However, like many other introduced animals, they are simply in the wrong place.   Hedgehogs do not naturally belong in New Zealand therefore our native wildlife is not adapted to protect themselves from them. 

So when living in New Zealand bush, hedgehogs are considered pests.  The hedgehog’s impact in most native bush areas that have the full range of other pests is considered low, because some of these other  pests – like stoats, also eat hedgehogs. However, in areas where other pests are absent, like many Hauraki Gulf islands, hedgehogs can increase in numbers and become a significant predator of threatened native  species. 

Our native bush is quite different from our suburban gardens where they instead chomp through garden beetles, slugs and snails.

Whether a pest or gardener’s friend, no living creature deserves to suffer

URGENT HELP IS NEEDED if you see a hedgehog with:

  • Cuts or wounds.
  • Flies, tiny white eggs or maggots (small white worms) anywhere on the hedgehog.?
  • A hedgehog that limps or is wobbly
  • A hedgehog who is very thin and not a round shape
  • A hedgehog that has bald patches, a crusty skin or missing spines
  • Wire, string or netting wrapped around it
  • Stays in the same spot in the open during the day for any length of time

It is important to contact a Hedgehog Rescue Centre as soon as possible for more advice BUT before contacting them you can ask an adult to do the following:

  1. Pick the hedgehog up with an old towel to protect yourself from the prickles. They will not bite but may make a snorting noise and curl up. This is their way of protecting themselves from predators. They will be very sick if they do not curl up.
  2. Put the hedgehog in a box with a lid, or cat cage lined with newspaper and an old towel down one end. 
    - If the hedgehog is sick it will need warmth so a warm (not hot) hot water bottle covered with a 2nd towel will help. 
    - Give water only (not milk or bread, both of which will make the hedgehog sick) and a small amount of tinned cat or dog food (not fish) in a heavy shallow dish they can’t tip over. You may also give small cat biscuits. 
    - Make sure you have a lid with air holes and closes firmly as they are great escape artists!
  3. If you see tiny white eggs try and brush off with an old toothbrush. It is important to check that they are not in its ears or on its face.
  4. Place the box somewhere warm, dry and quiet. Handle as little as possible and very gently.
  5. As with all animals, strict hygiene rules should apply. Make sure after handling the hedgehog or their bedding that you wash your hands thoroughly.
  6. If you use a cat cage or any other type of lidded basket or cage you will need to sterilise this with hospital strength bleach after you have finished using it. If the hedgehog is only in your care for a short time temporarily a cardboard box can then be destroyed saving sterilisation. Likewise any blankets used must also be sterilised, so ideally use old blankets/jerseys for warmth that you don't mind throwing away.
Now contact a Hedgehog Rescue centre for advice:

Auckland
Lynn MacDonald
Tel
. 09 816 9219
Please phone Lynn for advice on caring for hedgehogs. 

New Zealand Wide
Hedgehog Haven – Peg Loague
PO Box 119, Taupo
Tel: 07 378 7630|
Peg will be able to give you further advice and possibly have a contact in your local area. You can also contact her via email.

See video on Peg's work on Animal Academy TV series (Episode 2, end of chapter 1)

Thank you to Peg Loague of Hedgehog Haven for her kind and knowledgeable advice on which this information is based.

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Hedgehogs rely on their spines for protection and roll into a tight ball when threatened.

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In winter, hedgehogs hibernate are under tree roots, in rabbit burrows or other dry areas. 

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In winter, hedgehogs hibernate are under tree roots, in rabbit burrows or other dry areas. 

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Male hedgehogs begin hibernation in winter much earlier than females.

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Movement and snuffling (like a hog) can often be heard before a hedgehog is sighted.  

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There are 15 different species of hedgehog in Europe, Asia and Africa.  They are not native to NZ and were introduced here by the early settlers.

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Hedgehogs are not related to other spine covered creatures such as the porcupine or echidna.

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The spines of a hedgehog are stiff hollow hairs.  They are not poisonous or barbed and cannot be easily removed.

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Hedgehog spines fall out naturally when a hedgehog sheds its baby spines and grows adult spines a process called "quilling".

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Hedgehog spines last about a year each, fall out, and then a new one grows in its place.

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Hedgehogs have about 5,000 to 6,500 spines at any one time.

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A baby hedgehog is called a hoglet.

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For their size, hedgehogs have a relatively long lifespan. They live on average for 4 - 7 years in the wild.

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Hedgehogs are named for two reasons. They scurry around amongst the hedges looking for food. But did you know that whilst they are doing this, they also make pig-like grunting noises? Hedge + hog = hedgehog!

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A female hedgehog can produce two litters of hoglets per year, with about 4 – 7 hoglets in a litter.

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Young hoglets are independent after about 7 weeks.

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Hedgehogs have a strange habit.  If they experience a strong smell or taste, they ‘self-anoint’ where they cover their spines in foamy saliva.

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Hedgehogs use their sense of hearing and smell for finding food because their eyesight is weak – it is adapted for night-time vision.

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Hedgehogs are clean animals and work hard at staying clean.

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One of the most famous hedgehog cartoon characters is ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’.

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Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so don’t give them milk!

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Hedgehogs are solitary animals who only pair up to mate.