Lacto-free

First – thank you for the many people who took time to read through the last post and the many many comments. I was surprised at the depth of feeling and hope that I have not re-started any once forgotten problems.

Reading through what has been written, I think I have a better handle on my position. Or at least a way of expressing it:

  • No wild animals should ever be taken from the wild and kept as a pet.
  • I think that hedgehogs, of whatever species, belong in the wild.
  • Pet hedgehogs (African species, possibly hybrids, and possibly subject to 10 or 20 generations of captivity) are unable to be returned to the wild.
  • The welfare of any hedgehogs that are kept in captivity should be paramount.
  • Breeding hedgehogs for profit is likely to lead to a reduction of the quality of conditions in which hedgehogs are kept.
  • If you are going to look after a pet hedgehog then please use this position to help promote the really important issues surrounding the well-being of ‘real’ hedgehogs out in the wild.
  • ‘They are just so cute’ is NOT reason enough to keep an animal in captivity (these are not animated teddy-bears).
So – my first list … and I am expecting that there are people out there who might be able to add to this, or critique ideas that are there – so please do!
And with respect to that last point – here is a link to a video on youtube featuring a pet hedgehog – which is designed to increase awareness of and interest in African (pygmy) Hedgehogs as potential pets. The message is good – that hedgehogs do not digest lactose well … we know that – NO to bread and milk, whatever your parents might have said (or even the illustrious Podushkas) … though I have to say there are great alternatives that do not involve the exploitation of cows. But, the use of a cute hedgehog will only make the demand higher and the risk, I fear, is that this will tip the UK situation from one where a few (frequently delightfully odd) folk keep hedgehogs as pets to one where the horror of the ‘must have fad pet’ emerges. And however well those few people who do breed hedgehogs keep their animals, and however much they may abhor the idea of this becoming a craze; there would be no craze if it were not for the few good people keeping interest in the animal as a pet alive. So everyone who is involved with keeping the offspring of the original Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix algirius must consider that risk and consider their culpability.
I know it might come as a surprise, but my life does not revolve around hedgehogs – I do have other interests, and this blog is going to slowly morph to include far more British wildlife as my new book gets closer to publication. The Beauty in the Beast is, in my opinion, even more fun that A Prickly Affair …  there are still hedgehogs, but there are also many many more wonderful animals. So, get pre-ordering! (after you have commented on this blog, of course)

 

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14 Comments

  1. Jess
    Posted 28 February 2012 at 09:41 | Permalink

    I have some to day on this topic, but I’m in beef and on my phone. From my experience in the states, hedgehogs as pets are nice, but need to be regulated much more. I’ve become sort of disenchanted with the whole idea as I see more irresponsible breeding and even more pet parents who have no grasp of the responsibilities and care these creatures need. I’ve met one or two hedgehog parents who know their needs well, but I’ve met far more people than that who do have hedgehogs. It’s hard to find a person who even knows the proper care of a Guinea pig. Working in a pet store gave me the opportunity to deny many of these people the ability to purchase these animals (at least at my store while i was working), but I’m now under the impression that most people should just not have animals at all. Maybe I’m being misanthropic, but i do know I’ve already written far more than planned on this tiny phone keyboard. More later.

    • Jess
      Posted 28 February 2012 at 09:41 | Permalink

      Wow, thank you phone for those embarrassing typos.

      • Posted 28 February 2012 at 11:33 | Permalink

        :D I was wondering how you can get “in beef”. Seems a little excessive even for a meat eater.

    • Posted 28 February 2012 at 09:53 | Permalink

      Jess – thank you for the wisdom of your experience. And for the trouble taken to write on a phone! Just interested in where ‘beef’ is … I thought you did not eat red meat! But seriously, your perspective as a pet owner and as a pet-shop worker are both very instructive, thank you.

      • Jess
        Posted 28 February 2012 at 20:25 | Permalink

        It was supposed to be “I’m in bed!”

  2. Marion Horscroft
    Posted 28 February 2012 at 09:42 | Permalink

    Hugh, I’m pleased your blog has created such interest and it’s heartening to see that everyone has the welfare of wild and pet hedgehogs as a priority. The important point is to monitor, and react to, what happens now. The video you mention is an advert that appeared for the first time on ITV last night. The good thing is that it may discourage people from feeding hedgehogs milk but I fear it may conjure up a rather distorted image of owning a pet hedgehog (and what on earth is a hedgehog doing wearing a ribbon???)

    • Posted 28 February 2012 at 09:54 | Permalink

      you mean they do not normally wear ribbons?

      • Vicki McLean
        Posted 28 February 2012 at 15:18 | Permalink

        YOU were at the Rocky Mountain Hedgehog show. You know they wear all kinds of things.

  3. Von Coxall
    Posted 28 February 2012 at 09:57 | Permalink

    Let’s face facts here people universally are vile and will exploit anything from snakes to young children. Those of us who care do what we can to protect and defend. My garden looks like an abandoned mess but it’s wildlife friendly and that’s the way it will stay. My hedgehogs visit throught out the spring summer and auterm but I am horrified to learn that they are about to use the field next door as a building plot for 25 houses!
    It’s a huge shame that hedgehogs don’t have very large teeth and eat humans. I wonder how many stupid people are trying to buy meerkats on the basis of oh so cute.
    Have you seen what people are doing to the slow loris?
    as you so rightly say wild animals need to stay in the wild and we all have a duty to help that happen.

    • Posted 28 February 2012 at 10:01 | Permalink

      though in defence of some people … I hope I am not vile and exploitative … there are some wonderful people out there who care a whole bucket for the people and world around them – I love animals/nature/wildness – but not to the exclusion of people. We are animals too!

  4. Posted 28 February 2012 at 11:45 | Permalink

    I have just had an email from the most revered hedgehog expert in the world (and that is not hyperbole) Dr Pat Morris. He very succinctly points out that:

    1 It is illegal to sell wild hedgehogs (W&C Act, 1981). European hedgehogs are generally messy animals to keep, so less appealing than African ones. I think a big trade is unlikely to develop.
    2 African hedgehogs make better pets than Erinaceus europaeus, being already ‘domesticated’ and tame. They have been selectively bred for so many generations now that they are indoor animals just like hamsters and gerbils. If keeping those as pets is morally acceptable, then I can’t see a logical basis for not keeping captive bred African hogs. (and I believe that removal from the wild has now ceased). Personally I don’t keep any of these animals, but appreciate the value of doing so, especially to children.
    3 I am more concerned about the welfare implications of releasing unwanted African hedgehogs into the wild. This too is illegal but would be hard to prevent or police.

  5. Posted 28 February 2012 at 15:12 | Permalink

    Hugh, I had the opportunity to interview the fellow who was reportedly the original large exporter of African hedgehogs to the USA in 2001 (he, alone, exported 50,000). He was operating a reptile export business in Lagos, Nigeria when some men from Kano, northern Nigeria were selling Central African hedgehogs that they had gathered up. At that time, these hedgehogs were supposedly overpopulating around Kano (a city of some 3 million) and starving, getting run over, and invading dumps, etc. An initial shipment of 2,000 of these hedgehogs traveled by Air Nigeria to New York City in 1991. They sold in the wholesale pet trade and so further shipments of 2,000 or so began moving from Lagos to NYC and Miami. By the time these hedgehogs were becoming “fad” exotic pets around 1993, the overpopulation issue around Kano had abated and in order to meet demand, the hedgehog gatherers went further afield – into Benin and Niger – in search of more. This is where supposedly the Algerian hedgehogs came from and were imported in 1993 and 1994. In 1994, the US Department of Agriculture placed a quarantine (I think it was 90 days) on all live animal imports coming from countries having hoof and mouth disease, which essentially ended the importation of African hedgehogs. During the period of 1991 to 1994, it is estimated that about 80,000 African hedgehogs were imported into North America. Virtually all of the African hedgehogs that are here in the USA today are the descendants of those original 80,000 and the hedgehog community here estimates that the North American population is between 100,000 and 140,000. Through all of this, here we feel that the largest travesty was the feverish inbreeding done by profiteers when the USDA closed the door and the price of a breeding pair went as high as $5,000. Over the years, the descendants of these inbred animals have died early deaths due to hereditary fatal illnesses, especially a degenerative myelopathy which paralyzes and kills the hedgehog by about 18 to 24 months of age. Due to this activity, a Registry was begun in 1997 to assist ethical breeders in only breeding from clear blood lines and that Registry is still operated today by the International Hedgehog Association (IHA). There is also an organization called the Hedgehog Breeders Alliance (HBA) which imposes a rather rigorous Code of Ethics upon its members (www.hedgehogbreederalliance.org). So, it seems that these imports have alleviated the overpopulation problem in northern Nigeria, and were conveniently stopped as remote wild populations were being encroached upon. However, I understand that there is a small African hedgehog trade with these being imported into several countries, including the UK, the Philippines, and several South American countries. I have also seen a few (very few) Middle Eastern and Russian hedgehogs in the USA, these most likely being smuggled in by military members and immigrants. Being desert dwellers, African hedgehogs make very judicious use of water and are odorless if healthy. They are quiet, clean, hypoallergenic, and just may enjoy living indoors in Denver more than in a trash dump and dodging traffic in Kano. Best wishes, Z. G. Standing Bear at The Flash and Thelma Memorial Hedgehog Rescue, Inc., in Divide, Colorado USA

  6. Vicki McLean
    Posted 28 February 2012 at 15:30 | Permalink

    I think your position was a great extraction from what was written in response to your blog position. You obviously have a large number of experienced folks there in the UK, but to the extent our experience here can be helpful, I would be happy to research through our mortality data base or anything else that would be helpful to you. Our data base has over 1000 entries in it. I might add that Israel recently (after it’s own careful deliberation) contacted us about our opinion of allowing pet hedgehogs into Israel, where they CAN survive. We advised against it and they do not allow pet hedgehogs based primarily on their own logic. Some exporter/importer had apparently offered them exclusively albino hedgehogs because they can’t survive in the wild. What? Two of their species are already at risk. But since they can’t live in UK outdoors the problems would be different. We have a variety of studies and many members from whom we can gather information. Or, maybe you have all the info you need, and if so — great.

  7. Janet
    Posted 5 March 2012 at 08:40 | Permalink

    I agree with you 100%, Hugh. Alll animals deserve respect, and keeping a wild animal as a pet because it’s cute is absurd and cruel. Keeping a wild animal as a pet for any reason is absurd and cruel.
    As for pet hedgehogs, one only has to look at the periodic pet crazes here in America and their disastrous consequences to understand your fear. Dalmatians had their moment in the sun, and then were dumped at shelters by the thousands. Purse pets were all the rage, thanks to Paris Hilton (not someone most Americans would choose to claim), and now shelters are full of those little yappers. Crazes always end badly for animals, so it’s up to us to not contribute to the frenzy in any way.

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  • Hugh Warwick holding a toad

  • Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer with a particular fondness for hedgehogs. His first book, A Prickly Affair, remains the only book to have accolades from both Jeanette Winterson and Ann Widdecombe on the cover. The Beauty in the Beast is published in May 2012 and takes him on a journey in search of other animals. And in November 2012 he returns to hedgehogs with a book about the iconography of the animal.

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