Brighton Hedgehog Friendly Campus

Hedgehog care and re-introduction to the wild: the story of Mother Hedge and her hoglets.

By Caroline Wiechmann

On the 21st of September 2017, I received a phone call from a friend called Will; he had found a mother hedgehog and her five hoglets whilst at work. He was a builder and was building a fence and clearing an area of shrubbery. Will and his work colleagues had come across the mother first, making the discovery after accidently injuring her with gardening equipment, which had caused two minor puncture wounds. Will and his colleagues were unsure of what to do, so they placed the hedgehog in a bucket.

Soon after, the five baby hoglets were discovered too, thankfully unharmed. They were tiny and less than a week old, possibly only a few days of age. They were also put into a separate bucket. This is when I received the phone call asking for advice. I was called because of my experience with working with animals. After informing me what had happened, my initial thought was concern over the possibility that the mother might now reject her hoglets. I told him to reunite the hoglets with their mother. Thankfully she did not reject her hoglets, despite the human interference.

Will asked me if I could find somewhere for them to go, as their original home was no longer a safe place. I phoned my local rescue centres, but it appeared they were all overwhelmed with work and too busy to take the hogs. Therefore, I decided I would take them myself. As it was September, the hoglets were Autumn juveniles; they had a very minimal chance of being able to gain enough body weight in time to survive hibernation. Hoglets are usually born around May, June and July; however, it’s possible that a female hedgehog may sometimes have a 2nd litter in the year, depending on the weather. I decided I would care for them until the next spring, when it was suitable to release them to the wild. Will had offered to build some hedgehog hutches that I could keep them in; he built me some hutches, and gave me the hedgehogs. I cleaned the mother hedgehogs’ wounds with some sea salt and water to prevent infection, and that night I delved into hedgehog research so that I could provide the best care possible.

The hoglets grew fast, and it wasn’t that long before they were eating solid food. I fed them a varied diet of hedgehog dry food, high quality dog food, and some worms that I could find from the pet shop. They were always very eager at feeding time, scratching at the cage whilst I prepared their food. I couldn’t resist giving them names; I named the mother hedgehog ‘Mama Hedge’ and her hoglets were named after the songs of one of my favourite bands: Duncan Disorderly and the Scallywags. They were ‘Clandestino’, ‘Emilio’, ‘Fat Henry’, ‘Mr Boring’ and ‘Itchy Gypsy’

Time flew by, and it wasn’t long before it became clear the hedgehog juveniles needed to be separated from their mother. They were fully weaned and were around 7-8 weeks old, which is the natural age a hoglet would leave its mother. As hedgehogs are naturally solitary, I moved them all into their own hutch. I tried to introduce a water dispenser but they never seemed to be able to figure it out how it worked, so in the end I just stuck to bowls of water. One of my biggest concerns whilst I cared for them over the winter was their lack of natural foraging skills, due to the conditions they had to live in. However, as I researched this topic, I found out that hedgehogs are highly adaptable and have strong natural instincts, which was somewhat reassuring. Thankfully I also had a friend that bred bugs as food for his pets. He would regularly give me some invertebrates that I could feed the hedgehogs, which allowed me to provide a bit of natural enrichment.

As I continued to care for them over the months, I realised they began to scratch themselves more often. A flea infestation had developed, and it was apparent they were very uncomfortable. Unsure of what to do, I took to the internet. After doing some research, I learned that hedgehogs have their own type of fleas that are host-specific, meaning they can only live on hedgehogs. In the wild these fleas would not be very harmful because they are free to roam in an open environment. However, in enclosed conditions the fleas can rapidly multiply, which can result in a severe flea infestation. I always kept human contact to a minimum for the interest of successful reintroduction into the wild. However, in this situation I felt it was necessary to intervene and remove most of the fleas, because the infestation was clearly affecting their quality of life. I purchased some suitable flea removal product, and that night I tackled the fleas. I failed to get any photos of this process, but I can assure you, I have never seen so many parasites in my life. Thousands of fleas covered the bath as I treated the hedgehogs one by one. The treatment was effective, and the major infestation had not returned during the remaining time they were in my care.

Spring was approaching, so it was time to research suitable habitats in my local area of Kent for release. I released the mother hedgehog where she was originally found, as recommended by the sources I had researched. Prior to this release, I checked the area to ensure there green space remained for her to survive, and thankfully the previous construction work had not destroyed all the suitable habitat in the area. After releasing Mother Hedge, I then concentrated on finding ideal locations for her offspring. I wanted to release them in different areas in the hope it would maintain some genetic diversity amongst the hedgehog population in Kent.

On the 16th of April 2018, I released the first hedgehog, Mr Boring, in the back garden within a small town called Hythe. My friend’s grandmother owned this garden, and it backed on to a beautiful natural landscape where a hedgehog could forage and thrive, and she had also agreed to provide food if Mr Boring was reluctant to leave the area of the garden. Once placed in the garden, a hole was cut in the side of the hutch so that he could leave when he felt comfortable to (i.e. ‘soft release’). After the release, she did report to me the occasional sight of hedgehog faeces in her garden, which was good to hear. She also found Mr Boring one morning swimming in her pond, unable to get out. A plank was then placed in the pond to allow climbable access, which prevented this from happening again.

n the 20th of April 2018, I released Fat Henry and Clandestino in the back-garden of one of my friends’ houses within a village called Nonnington. This village was so rural, I felt comfortable releasing two of them there as there was so much natural habitat backing onto the garden in addition to a lack road traffic passing through the area. My friend Jess reported that Clandestino had left the hutch and garden after the first night. Fat Henry however, explored the garden at night and returned to his hutch to sleep in the day. After about two weeks, Fat Henry was finally confident enough to leave the garden and hutch for good.

On the 22nd of April 2018, I released the last two hedgehogs, Itchy Gypsy and Emilio. One of my friends’ mothers was a ranger for Poulton wood in Aldington. She agreed to let us release them within the woods. As tranquil and beautiful as this habitat looks, this release didn’t have the most prettiest of endings. In the morning after the first night of their release, the ranger had found one of the hedgehogs had been killed by what was most likely a badger. I was deeply saddened by this; however, I did also understand that’s just how the circle of life goes. There was no trace of the other hedgehog, so I like to think he probably survived.

This experience was very valuable to me, and because of it, hedgehogs will always have a place in my heart. It also contributed to my inspiration for studying Ecology and Conservation, as well as for joining the Hedgehog Friendly Campus (HFC) campaign. If you’re ever having some form of construction work carried out in your garden, remember to the check the area properly, because you just never know what you might find hiding under your shrubbery!


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