Animal rescue stations around the Czech Republic are filling up with hedgehogs. The animal shelter in Prague’s Jinonice district, for instance, took in more than 650 hedgehogs since the start of November. Although animal activists appreciate people’s good intentions in helping the spiny mammals, they also say not every hedgehog found in the wild really needs help.
Autumn is the time of year when hedgehogs, Europe’s only spiny mammals, actively work to put on fat to survive their winter hibernation. By November, most of the animals living in this part of Europe have found a place to overwinter.
If you come across the nocturnal animal during the day at this time of year, chances are that it was either injured or comes from a second litter, born in September or even October. Such hoglets usually don’t have time to build up the necessary fat reserves to survive the winter. Markéta Jariabková is a conservationist at an animal rescue station in South Bohemia:
“This animal was brought here just recently. We’ll put it on the scales to see how much it weighs, because that should tell us whether or not it can survive the winter. We can see that this fellow weighs 275 grams. In order to survive, it must have at least half a kilo.”
Apart from orphaned hoglets, animal rescue stations also take in injured hedgehogs, most commonly injured by garden fires or bitten by dogs. But many of the animals found in the wild do not really require expert help, says David Číp from the animal shelter in Jaroměř.
“In some cases, it is obvious. If a hedgehog is injured or if it’s a hoglet without a mother, than there is no reason to hesitate. But in some cases, it is not really clear whether the given hedgehog needs our help. So I would advise people to always consult with experts.”
David Číp says that in many cases it is sufficient to help the animals directly in parks or gardens, for example by providing them with a place to overwinter:
“You can make them a small wooden hut and hide it under a pile of hey or leaves. That’s the most important thing. It is also good to have a garden that is alive and full of insects. And you can also give them some dog or cat food, rice with meat or a hardboiled egg.”
Although the number of hedgehogs in rescue stations keeps increasing, hedgehog populations in Europe have been steadily dropping over the past years due to a loss of habitat and food. The United Kingdom, for instance, has seen its population drop by 50 percent since 2000.
The disappearance of hedgehog populations is caused mainly by intensive agriculture, as farmers remove hedges and trees to make way for crops, and also by increasing the use of pesticides, which kill off the hedgehog’s natural diet of insects and invertebrates, such as worms and slugs.