I have received a letter from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society asking me to point out that a wild hedgehog would not make a good pet, however interesting my life with Gaby, whom I wrote about, has been. I thought that it was quite obvious from all posts about Gaby that he was an hour or so from death when I found him one winter. His lungs were damaged and he had to have medication every day of his life. There were good days and bad days, and although his health stabilised, he needed a lot of care. He would never have survived in the wild by himself. He lived for almost six years with me, and if it wasn’t for an infection that he caught at the veterinary surgery, he might have had a few more months or even years.
I have helped various hedgehogs over the years, but the very first one that found my garden, was provided with a home (an adapted solid wood bedside cabinet), placed in a corner of the front garden, under a cherry tree. The cabinet was camouflaged by being covered with a huge pile of dry Russian vine twigs and equipped with a pillow and two baby blankets, that were changed every so often. There was a tunnel through the vine to the home opening, and ‘room service’ of soft food and water was delivered each evening. This hedgehog, no doubt, explored the whole of the garden but was not tempted to wander outside the perimeters of the property because he was never hungry, and he lived well over 12 years. Considering that statistically a hedgehog’s life in the wild is about two years, I think that this method of hedgehog preservation could be regarded as successful.
There is an important issue here – there is still the old belief that we should live separate lives from animals, that we should not interfere in their welfare, but at the same time we have taken over vast expanses of their habitat, cutting down forests, building on green land and polluting rivers and oceans. This is happening globally. When people complain about foxes, and even badgers, roaming the streets of our towns and cities, whose fault is it? We invest vast sums in medical research to save our lives, be it by more and more complex medication and transplants. It seems to me that not even feeding birds or other wildlife, as is often advised, is not only mean, selfish but also foolish, as we forever bemoan in the press the falling numbers of wild creatures, be it birds or otters or voles… We cannot have it both ways.
The renowned biologist Professor Aubrey Manning campaigned for many years for preservation of some space to allow elephants in Africa to be able to lead a free life. At present, we know that this is just a dream. Poachers still kill with impunity huge numbers of elephants. Those that are saved as orphans will survive as adults only in the protected areas of Nature Reserves. The same devastation affects many other wild animals, some already extinct, others on the verge of extinction. Professor Manning and Sir David Attenborough, among others, both point out that as the world is grossly overpopulated, we need to understand that, and I quote Professor Manning’s words: “All wildlife needs space and respect.” As I write this, the UK Government has just announced that it is sending troops to Malawi to help with the protection of black rhinos. The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This evil trade is worth £17 billion and poses an existential threat to the planet’s most majestic mammals -it is our duty to preserve them for future generations.” We can regard this as the end of our dream of animals living an independent from us life.
I am always dismayed that the crews of wildlife documentaries show us dying of hunger bear cubs or adult ones, especially around the Canadian town of Churchill, but do nothing to help. We have a moral obligation to help those with whom we share our ancestry, and whose habitat we are either destroying or taking over. The often quoted mantra of not interfering with nature, of just walking by, sometime causes a tragic end to humans too. Several years ago, a photographer documenting the devastation of some areas in South Africa caused by social unrest, came across an abandoned baby girl dying in the deserted land. At that point, he thought he was just a social documentator , without any personal involvement. He took the picture, but left the baby to its fate. The photo sold to a syndicate made it into newspapers all around the world. After years of torment the photographer took his own life.
I rest my case.