9 Jan 2017

Hedgehogs – good or bad?

From Our Changing World, 7:06 pm on 9 January 2017
A hedgehog in Karori, Wellington

A hedgehog in Karori, Wellington Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 / Tony Wills

Hedgehogs are cute – but these small spiny mammals also deadly killers.

Australian science communication student Harriet Ampt was excited to see her first hedgehog in the flesh here, but then the ecologist in her began to wonder why they’re in New Zealand in the first place…

Harriet had expected Kiwis to share with Australians a somewhat murderous attitude to invasive species. And while many New Zealanders take a brutal view of rats, stoats and possums, in the case of hedgehogs, she finds a nation divided.

Harriet writes: "hedgehogs are adorable, non-threatening, endearing and also happen to have voracious appetites. We don’t tend to associate hedgehogs with the other harmful introduced predators, but their potential damage should not be underestimated.

Since being introduced by acclimatisation societies for their sentimental value, hedgehogs have become increasingly abundant in almost all habitats in New Zealand, some areas containing up to 8 hedgehogs per hectare.

So why is this an issue?

According to Professor Phillip Seddon, Director of the Wildlife Management Program at the University of Otago, hedgehogs are talented nest thieves, and will commonly eat the eggs of native ground-nesting birds, a number of which are critically endangered. Ecologists are also beginning to suspect that their impact on native invertebrate populations may be of serious concern, although it is hard to quantify due to the lack of research in this field.

Despite their potential damage to native wildlife, hedgehogs are commonly ignored in predator-free discourse, and are more likely mentioned in heroic stories of the animals being rescued from plastic cups. Their cuteness is their deadliest weapon; we have fallen into their trap. Maybe it’s time we changed the conversation, and laid a trap of our own."

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