#HedgehogAwarenessWeek: Fostering Hedgehogs

It's #HedgehogAwarenessWeek, a week to raise awareness about our spikey little pals, the threats to their existence and ways that we can look after them on our own land and gardens. Our volunteers do a truly fantastic job of looking after their wellbeing and we thought we would grab a chat with Ian, our Wildlife Rescue Volunteer who looked after little hoglets for 6 months over the Winter until they were ready to be released this Spring.

Ian, tell us a bit about yourself and why you started volunteering for the USPCA? Did your work inspire the rest of the family to get involved?

I worked in a factory for nearly 20 years and I was no longer enjoying it there. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take a redundancy package voluntarily. So I saw this as my time to leave.

I saw a couple of online diplomas in animal care that interested me. So I completed these and joined the local Red Squirrel group. Ulster Wildlife had a program to set up cameras and feeders in forests in Northern Ireland to see if the Red Squirrels were making a comeback.

A few years later I saw a USPCA post on social media, looking for wildlife rescue volunteers. I applied and couldn't believe my luck when their Volunteer Coordinator got in touch and an induction date was confirmed. It's hard to believe it was only a year ago. I have 3 kids. The eldest boy is still terrified of most animals. Though my daughter has taken to helping with all the animals and has also just joined the USPCA wildlife rescue volunteer program. My youngest son is also very good at helping feed the animals. All this help allows me to continue to help as many animals as possible.

How many hedgehogs did you foster and how old were they?

I rescued 4 hoglets in total. 3 boys and a girl. Going by their weight of 120g to 150g, they were about 4 weeks old. My kids named them Sonic, Tails, Bubbles and Squeak

What did you need to do to look after them all/ what care plan did you have in place?

Because of the time of year, they were not going to be at a weight large enough to allow them to safely hibernate. So they had to spend winter with us and be kept in a warm environment with a temperature greater than 20'c. I was lucky enough to have been given a vivarium a few weeks prior. It was perfect for these little hoglets. I was able to keep them in a constant 20'C to 24'C and at the same time I could observe them to see who was or wasn't eating.

One of the first things we did was mark each hoglet which allowed us to keep a record of the weights and make sure they each got a fair share of food.

Very sadly the little female hoglet died shortly after we collected them. There was no sign of injury and she was eating, keeping her weight. We came down one morning and she had passed away. It was heartbreaking for us.

We build the hoglets an enclosure that gave them freedom to move about. The enclosure was split into 3 sections. The 1st was the sleeping quarters with a house and bedding that needed changed a lot. The next section was a mixed area. We had obstacles in the form of tunnels, blocks of wood and a few balls to play with. These things had to be accessible for them to reach their food. At this stage it was dog food or Hedgehog food that almost all pet shops have. They still had to be weighed every few days to make sure they weren't being over or under fed. The 3rd area was their litter tray and they were fully litter trained within a couple of weeks.

How long were they in your care for and when and where did they get released?

They Hoglets were with us for exactly 6 months and 2 weeks. We waited until the frosty nights had gone and the ground was soft enough to scrape for food.

We let them go about half a mile from where we collected them. We took them away from being near any roads and in an area where they could find cover. I did leave them the house they had been in for the last few months. Just in case they wanted that familiarity until they found their feet. I went back a week later and the house was empty. Hopefully they are living as hedgehogs should be.
It was an amazing feeling, knowing we had almost certainly saved three hoglets from perishing in the winter months and now they were back in nature.

Did you learn anything new about hedgehogs from this experience? Did they surprise you in anyway?

The whole experience was a learning curve. Help from the USPCA was always at the end of the phone should I need it. Wildlife Officer Phil or fellow volunteers shared their knowledge and experience.

What surprised me was how much they eat and drink for such little hedgehogs. Also, they are smelly little critters as they poop loads but you become nose blind to this. They are unbelievably messy and there was always one trying to find a way out if the enclosure.

What advice would you give to anyone that feels inspired by your story and wants to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals like you do?

For anyone that has that special love for all animals and feels they would love to rescue, rehabilitate and release wildlife, you should absolutely do it. It can be very time consuming and you have to be prepared for those sad times when the absolute best we can do is put an end to any prolonged suffering. Above all it is an amazing thing to do. Where else can you rescue a swan, a curlew, a gull, a pigeon, a crow, a rook, a raven, a magpie, a woodcock, a great crested grebe or a hedgehog? I’d encourage you to fill out the volunteer form on the USPCA's website and join the best group of wildlife volunteers ever.

Ian and his family are an integral part of our volunteer community! They are always on hand to rescue so many animals across Northern Ireland and they're also involved in our campaign efforts to improve animal welfare legislation in NI.