Pestilential pets

Rare is the time that I find myself in agreement with Les Stocker at St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital (well, okay, not that rare, it is just that I am still smarting from some rather snooty behaviour) – but this report on the BBC news website about the attempt to promote African Pygmy Hedgehogs as pets in the UK is spot on … While it did what the BBC is obliged to do, and give two sides to a story, it clearly came down on the side of sanity.

As I have said before, on here and in my book, those extremely cute little hedgehogs – mash ups of Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix algirus –  in fact, here is some proof of quite how cute

(this one was called Matilda, sharing a name with my daughter) – they should not be encouraged as pets in the UK.

In the USA and Canada, should mainly focus on the welfare of the hedgehogs being kept in captivity – though I am still keen to address the issue of keeping wild animals at all … how long does it take a wild animal to be bred into a domestic one? It is about 20 years since the first ones were exported from Nigeria to the USA. Are these still wild animals? Could they survive back in their original habitat? I don’t know.

But in the UK there are two additional problems. First, numpties who think they can make a fast buck by trying to sell wild European hedgehogs as pets to other numpties who think they would rather not pay the £150 for the pleasure of a spiky nocturnal pet. It will happen if the craze catches on.

And secondly, the inevitability of boredom … there is a reason why the craze of keeping pet hedgehogs in the USA crested quickly and then quickly died. These are not great pets for most people. And children, especially, will get bored. And what to do? Many will be released into the wild (why not, there are hedgehogs out there already says the numpty) … where they will die, or be found and handed into one of the already overburdened wildlife rescue hospitals around the country. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has a list of active carers on their website – it would be interesting to know how many have already received unwanted pygmy hedgehogs. I know of at least six.

And what do the carers do? They cannot release the hogs, and they do not want to get involved with selling them on … so they are left with  them.

So – please – please – however cute they may be – think about how much more wonderful the experience is of seeing a wild animal snuffling around your garden at night – and put your time, money and effort into doing what you can to save our native hedgehogs (for example Hedgehog Street), rather than becoming side-tracked by the selfish desires to mount a potentially damaging must-have-pet craze.

7 thoughts on “Pestilential pets

  1. Spot on, Hugh. Let’s spend more time encouraging wild hedgehogs – they are much more entertaining and rewarding. Anyway, let’s face it, we humans do not have a great record keeping wild animals as pets.

  2. Agree that we should not encourage them as home pets as the danger with the mass market is that numpties will have easier access to them. Creating a desire for them may also encourage unscrupulous dealers who will be less fussy who they sell them to.

    For £150 you could get a decent webcam and watch the real ones in your garden at night.

  3. Nicola, he explains very clearly why this pet craze should not be encouraged. Maybe you didn’t want to hear it. Pet crazes always end badly for the critter of the day, and that alone is reason enough to nip this in the bud. The welfare of the animals should always, always take precedence over your desire to have a cute conversation piece. Get involved with preserving the wild hedgehogs instead.

  4. Your not wrong there at all. I have re-homed one here that was going to be thrown out into the wild and have had another 2 calls previous to this where I suspect the hogs were sold to breeders – poor things. My Aph is extremely “wild” and they only hog out of 80 I have that cannot be handled without gloves, and this is the one that should be the tamest of the lot!!!!!!!

  5. I support your position for the UK, where there is a native hedgehog that needs support, but in the US, I think your position on African hedgies as pets might deserve some more thought. They have been kept as pets here (USA) for 30 years, so it’s unlikely that people who really want them are going to change now… it seems better to make sure that the right people have them and care for them properly, while discouraging the curious from getting them in the “they’re so cute!” phase.

    I rescued my first African pygmy hedgehog by taking him from a friend of my brother’s roommate because he was starving the poor thing and was keeping him in a tiny cage and not cleaning it often. This was back in 1991, and Sonic (sigh) was from reasonably long lines of non-wild (captive) hedgehogs. I don’t know if our pet hedgehogs would survive in the wild in Africa, but I suspect they would, if they were released as youngsters and there was adequate habitat for release.

    They are definitely NOT good pets for everyone. Their nocturnal nature and heat requirements can be tricky for people to adjust to, though they both suit me well. They are, however, more like cats than dogs, in that they choose the people they like and when to play or be affectionate; they are not slobbery, affectionate entertainers as many dogs are. If they don’t like you or just have a grumpy nature, as some do, they are lumps of hissing quills that still must be tended to carefully for years, a commitment that many people are not willing or able to make for lower perceived “reward”.

    My kids adore mine, but he is not their pet, he is mine, and I do all of his care and supervise the kids very closely with him, always. He lives in a large enclosure with lots of diversions and a big, safe running wheel. I take him out and let him play outside his cage every day, and he gets fresh live insects to eat every day in addition to a high-quality staple food (NOT the crap marketed as “hedgehog food”!) When it is warm enough, we bring our little fence setup and take him to the park to run around in the grass and catch bugs… everyone enjoys this! We are lucky that Thorn has a sweet, curious personality, and he seems to like everyone who moves slowly and touches him gently.

    It takes a certain level of maturity to enjoy an animal on its own terms, especially one unlikely to engage in tricks, talking, or other “charming” behavior, though if you actually love hedgehogs, they are endlessly fascinating. While I can’t say that my Thorn lives a WILD life, I know that he is not bored, he is healthy, and I’d even go out on a limb and will say that he seems happy. Is that such a bad thing? I know of several dogs and cats on my block alone that are not cared for as well, and nobody is raising a fuss about that.

    • Jaz,
      I completely agree with you – I have a hedgehog called Alice who is very well looked after and lives a very similar life to Thorn. Hedgehogs are not for everyone and I hope those that breed hedgehogs make people aware of what they are buying in to. Hedgehogs, both pets and wild, have very distinctive personalities with some of them being really rather grumpy (Alice certainly likes some people and huffs at others!)

      I do see your point of view and really hope that hedgies do not catch on as mass market pets as I don’t believe they are suitable for children of a young age and will only suit a certain type of person.

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