The life of a Hedgehog is fraught with dangers here in South Africa. Besides being harassed or killed by other predators, the veld fires we have every Winter is a great threat to them. They are also hunted and killed for 'muti' by witch doctors who believe certain body parts have healing properties.
Hedgie the Hedgehog came into my life at a time when I felt I couldn’t handle any more responsibilities, (I was already looking after 2 Mountain tortoises and 2 fledgling Laughing Doves, plus 2 baby Guinea fowl) and all I wanted to do was find a safe home for him as quickly as possible, but after the first hour of getting to know him, I’d lost my heart completely!
Hedgie was brought to me after being rescued from some dogs rolling him around the field, presumably quite puzzled at the prickly ball which seemed quite alive, yet yielding not one inch to any prompting or buffeting of any kind.
What attracted him to Bridgette’s garden was the garden light left on at night and under which he could snuffle around for any insects also attracted to the light. And after finding him two or three times in the morning being harassed by the dogs, Bridgette decided it was time for a change of venue for the prickly character who would not even let her catch a glimpse of anything inside the bunch of prickles.
She arrived with him one Sunday afternoon, not sure whether he was still alive or not, as he had not unrolled for quite some time. Cupping him gently in my hands, I took him to the ‘holding pen’, which was a fenced area normally housing the two baby Mountain tortoises that were currently in hibernation inside the house, snug in a box, emerging from time to time for a drink of water and a quick snack before returning to their selective corners. We left Hedgie in peace for a couple of hours and after Bridgette had left, I fetched Hedgie to make sure that he was indeed all right.
After a couple of minutes of gentle coaxing, I was rewarded with a little black nose and white hairy face peering out cautiously, taking in the scene for any possible danger, flipping back into his protective covering at the slightest move. It was not long before he seemed to decide that there did not seem to be any danger and he gently uncurled into his full length, with a soft, warm tummy resting in the palm of my hand. My movements had to be gentle and slow, as he was startled very easily.
After making sure that he was in quite good health, I offered him some bread and milk (for lack of having anything else to possibly give him at such short notice, as it was in the middle of winter and insects were decidedly in short supply). He lapped at the milk quite thirstily at first and after a while ate quite a bit of the bread. He then acted quite strangely, scrambling madly in my hand and I quickly took him back to the holding pen and put him down gently. He seemed quite agitated, running around for a while and then the reason was obvious – nature had called!
Then came the task of making him a shelter. I put down a nesting box filled with dried grass formed into a hollow in the one corner of the shelter. I gently put him to bed, leaving some more bread and milk and fresh water and decided to check on him later.
After dark, I went to fetch Hedgie and saw him investigating his new home, trotting the perimeters in an ever-widening circle, starting in the middle and walking the same route over and over, extending the range every couple of laps, until he had satisfied himself of where the boundaries were. Picking him up carefully (I still got pricked because he rolled into a ball, trapping my fingers inside his soft tummy!), we went into the house, where he spent some time curled up in my lap until he couldn’t resist the temptation anymore and started opening up, peering out slant-eyed, as if I wouldn’t be able to see him if his eyes were closed!
We have now established quite a cozy relationship, with him uncurling at the sound of my voice and peeping out to see the reason for this disturbance and if he’s not willing to be disturbed right at that moment, he does little hops combined with grunting and huffing noises, letting me know in no uncertain terms that this is not the right time for any play!