Hoglets worm their way into foster hearts

By Ged Cann -
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Hedgehog fosterer Jacquie Blair with Noel, left, and his adopted brother Teal.
Hedgehog fosterer Jacquie Blair with Noel, left, and his adopted brother Teal.

Those who follow the Hamilton News Facebook page will know the office recently took over the care of an orphaned baby hedgehog who became known, following an online poll, as Noel Edward Quilby.

Noel's entrance into the world was not a smooth one. His mother had died on the roads and soon after a dog found his nest.

We were sure all the hoglets were dead, but checking the next morning we found the little guy crawling away from the nest, a bite wound in his back, still blind and covered in fly eggs.

I am not a sentimental person, but when a two-week old baby has survived two days without being fed, a dog attack and a night out of the nest, he deserved a helping hand.

I knew the Department of Conservation classed hedgehogs as pests but decided all life was precious - except fly eggs. They can die by saline solution, and did.

The undertaking led me to Hedgehog Rescue New Zealand, who advised pipette feeding every three hours with pet milk and keeping Noel warm with a hot water bottle.

The "every three hours" part was exhausting, but take it from me, there is no cuter animal, and it was amazing to see the little guy's eyes and ears open for the first time.

I was nervous the first time I brought the little shoe box into the office and warned my editor "not to be angry, but ... "

I needn't have worried; she was won over the moment Noel crawled into her hand for a sleep. I thought 'smoothly done, Noel'.

The little guy certainly proved the merits of having an office pet, but also highlighted a serious issue that Hedgehog Rescue New Zealand faces in a lack of fosterers in Hamilton.

Despite having more than 200 registered fosterers, co-founder Jacquie Blair said she often goes through her books and finds no-one available in the Waikato.

Jacquie herself has 23 hedgehogs, and said most of the hogs that came in were either babies or suffering from mange.

"Nine out of 10 times it's babies in Hamilton - we get two or three calls about babies every day," she said.

She said people will quite often take over the caring of the animal themselves when they hear the alternative is euthanising.

"A lot of people turn around and say "well, we can't do that - we will look after it"," she said.

Jacquie said the most common thing for people to get wrong was failing to keep a heat source below the babies, who cannot maintain their own body heat for the first few weeks.

She refuted the commonly-held belief that hedgehogs carried disease, and said mange was one of the few illnesses they carried and that was not transferable to humans. The most common reason for complaint that she hears is of hedgehogs tucking into cats' and dogs' dinners.

"We have had people phone up to say they were coming in through the cat doors. One lady phoned up who lived in an apartment five storeys up and they got in there."

In fact, when Jacquie started Hedgehog Rescue with a friend in 2012 she never expected it would grow to such a size.

"It's quite incredible how many people like them," she said.

Hamilton fosterer Janine Clarkson, who has now taken over caring for Noel, said an essential part of Hedgehog Rescue's policy was to only release in suburban areas away from native bird nests.

"Hegehogs are primarily insectivores and great friends of the garden at eating slugs, snails, worms and that sort of thing. Because New Zealand has very few native predators if they are put into a native wildlife reserve they can also go after our ground-nest birds. We keep them out of those areas."

She said the English brought them over as gardeners' friends in the 1870s.

"Anyone who wants to start, just start with one. It's a little bit of cat food and care. Don't take on too much at once," was her advice.

If you would like to become involved as a fosterer visit www.hedgehogrescue.net.nz.

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