CONTRIBUTED BY: H. ERNST
I can pinpoint the exact moment when we officially became part of the neighborhood. It wasn’t when we moved in or even when we went around introducing ourselves to our German neighbors. No, it was when the neighborhood kids discovered an impossibly cute baby hedgehog walking in our yard one afternoon. We invited the kids into the yard to get a closer look and before we knew it, we had their parents, an aunt, an uncle, and another neighbor and her kids over as well. A joint effort to capture and rescue Snowball the Hedgehog ensued.
Hedgehogs, or Egle in German, are nocturnal animals. According to our neighbors, it’s very rare to see one even though our neighborhood is surrounded by fields and forests. In the winter, hedgehogs go into hibernation and because of this, they need to attain a certain size to be able to survive the winter. Babies born in late autumn and early winter, weighing less than 500-600 grams, typically don’t have enough body fat stored to survive the long German winters.
In Germany, hedgehogs are considered protected. As such, it is illegal to take a wild hedgehog and keep it as pet. However, it is permissible to help injured, orphaned, or sick hedgehogs—this includes helping baby and juvenile hedgehogs through the winter and giving it proper care until it can be released back into the wild. Please double check this with your local veterinarian clinic before embarking on any rehabitation attempts!
If you find a baby or juvenile hedgehog by itself, away from its nest, during the colder months and decide to help, here are some simple steps to start.
- Capture the hedgehog. This is relatively easy, as the hedgehog’s defense mechanism is to roll itself into a ball. However, do wear thick gloves for this to avoid getting poked, bitten, or coming in contact with parasites.
- Keep it warm. Bring the hedgehog inside while you figure out what to do with it. If you have children, this is typically when the “can we keep him?” conversation takes place.
- Provide food, water, and hiding places. Egg (boiled or scrambled without seasoning or oil) is a popular choice. Do not give it cow’s milk.
- If you choose to overwinter the hedgehog yourself, then set up proper equipment (heating pad, a pen or cage big enough for it to walk around, newspaper to line the cages, etc). In addition to food and shelter, the hedgehog will need to be looked over by a veterinarian.
- If you choose to deliver it to a local rescue organization, then contact your local veterinarian or animal shelter for contact information. Not every animal shelter or veterinarian will take in a hedgehog (we found this out first hand), but they should be able to point you in the right direction.
Although we would have loved to host Snowball for the winter, we knew we were going to be gone often in the upcoming months and we weren’t ready for the added responsibilities of caring for a baby hedgehog. Did I already mention how adorable he was? Trust me, it wasn’t just the kids who were sorely tempted to keep him for the winter!
Luckily for us, there is a hedgehog rescue center near our town. Frau Zeitz of Igelkrankenhaus met up with us at the train station and showed us the way to her house. There, we met with her husband and got a tour of their basement, aka the “Igelkrankenhaus” or “Hedgehog Hospital.” She confirmed that Snowball was indeed a boy and that he weighed only 160 grams, making him the smallest of the dozen or so hedgehogs overwintering at the Igelkrankenhaus. He was transferred to a cozy cage, fed, and given a fuzzy towel to hide under. In the coming months, he’ll gain weight and in the spring, released into the wild or adopted out to locals who want him in their gardens or orchards to keep the local slug population under control. We still talk about Snowball often and plan on visiting him before he’s released in the spring. In the meanwhile, we’re always keeping an eye out on our walks, hoping we’ll come across more of these adorable creatures!
For more information regarding hedgehogs in Germany: This website is in German but it offers information regarding hedgehog care as well as contact information for hedgehog stations and rescues all over Germany.
Another great hedgehog resource: This website also offers detailed information on hedgehog care, rescue guidelines, as well as contact information.
The Hedgehog Hospital:
For Stuttgart and surrounding areas (please contact prior to coming)
Ingelkrankenhaus email: Konni.firstname.lastname@example.org