Why we don't release blind or disabled hedgehogs to enclosed gardens
When caring for any animal we have to be mindful of the ‘5 freedoms’ which are:
- Freedom from hunger or thirst;
- Freedom from discomfort;
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease;
- Freedom to express normal behaviour;
- Freedom from fear and distress.
Keeping a hedgehog, which we always have to remember is a wild animal, in an enclosed garden fails to satisfy these requirements for the following reasons:
- In the wild a hedgehog will roam up to 2km per night; they cannot do this in a garden, even a large one. They need to travel these distances to find food, mates and suitable nesting sites of which they usually have several. In an enclosed garden their choices are limited to whatever humans provide;
- In an enclosed garden they will not find enough natural food by foraging, as they would do in the wild, and will be completely dependent on being fed by people;
- If male and female hedgehogs are kept in the same garden the female will be constantly bothered by the male(s), which will cause her stress, and she will have little choice but to mate with him whether she chooses to or not. If she has babies they will be at risk of being attacked by the male.
- In the wild hedgehogs will mate with numerous others, they do not ‘pair up’. If only one sex is kept then they cannot breed at all which is against their natural instincts; mixed sexes will only be able to mate with each other and will not be able to roam freely to find new mates as they would in the wild;
- Blind hedgehogs will come out of their nests during the daytime and will therefore be at risk of flystrike and/or being attacked by birds such as magpies;
- A hedgehog which has lost a rear leg (no respectable rescue will keep alive a hog that has lost a front leg) will be unable to groom itself properly and is at risk of infestation with fleas and/or ticks. This is not only very uncomfortable for the hedgehog but can cause infection/anaemia.
On balance, although everything possible is done to treat and rehabilitate hedgehogs in the rescue so that they can be released, if the hedgehog is so compromised that it can never be released into the wild then our view is that it is kinder to have the hedgehog put to sleep as it will never be able to lead a normal wild life. This decision is never made lightly and is always made together with a vet.
Rescues’ policies on this issue differ, we respect other rescues’ choice to keep hedgehogs in enclosed gardens but it is not something that is done here. This policy is in line with best practice advice from a number of authorities in the field of rehabilitation, as published by the BHPS here: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/BHPS-Guidance-For-relasing-Rehabilitated-Hedgehogs.pdf