A presentation by NZ Hedgehog rescue volunteer Lesley Wheatley last week turned into a dispute between conservationists and those who care for hedgehogs.
The talk, at Orewa Library on June 30, was to educate people about hedgehogs in the hope of attracting more volunteer carers locally.
Caring for sick or injured hedgehogs – including those that lose spines from mange mite – and ultimately returning them to the wild, has become almost a full time occupation for Lesley.
It also costs a fortune in dog food: “Supermarkets must think I have a lot of dogs as I generally leave with around 20 cans of dog food – but it’s all for the hedgehogs,” Lesley says. “You have to be careful not to feed them too much – if they get too fat, they can’t roll up properly.”
Once they reach the ‘magic weight’ of 800g, provided they are healthy and fully quilled, they hibernate in winter.
Lesley has been caring for hedgehogs for around four years. She and “long suffering” husband Len breed angora goats and have aviaries filled with around 10 species of birds on their Silverdale farm. Lesley is aware of the conflict between her love of birds and rescuing an introduced species like the hedgehog, which is on DOC’s pest species list because it eats the eggs of ground nesting birds, as well as skinks and many insects, including weta. For this reason, Lesley always releases hedgehogs away from native bush, in suburbia or pine forest.
She becomes attached to the hedgehogs, some of which she and Len look after for months. People bring them in suffering from disease or dog bites – one was tangled in netting in a vegetable garden. Treatment may include chemicals and oil baths. Lesley has had to pick maggots off their bodies with tweezers.
Currently there are almost 30 hedgehogs in recovery, filling boxes that have slowly taken over the Wheatley’s shearing shed.
The thought of hedgehogs being rescued makes Hibiscus Coast Forest & Bird member Pauline Smith very angry. She came to the Orewa Library talk to tell people the other side of the story: that nurturing hedgehogs is “a crime against the conservation estate”.
“Nature is no longer threatened, it is in crisis,” Pauline says. “We are about to lose over a third of our native bird species. In wetlands, birds are prey to hedgehogs. Predator Free NZ 2050 means zero pests, including hedgehogs.”
She says that volunteers will actively target hedgehogs with snap traps over the next six months as part of the Pest Free Peninsula project.
Hedgehogs are not managed under a national pest management plan and a Ministry for Primary Industries spokesperson says NZ Hedgehog Rescue’s activities are not in breach of the Biosecurity Act. However, DOC controls hedgehogs on its land and the species is listed as a pest in Auckland Council’s Regional Pest Management Strategy.
Auckland Council Biosecurity Manager Rachel Kelleher says because of this, the release of hedgehogs in Auckland may be an offence under the Biosecurity Act and it is important that people holding these species be aware of their obligations. However, she says the council prioritises management over enforcement, aiming to reduce the impacts of hedgehogs in natural areas.
“Where the council becomes aware, we regularly work with individuals and groups to provide them with information and education,” she says.