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Hounding the helpless hedgehog. May 24, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was astounded to open our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, and find a column by Bill White called “Kids target Pa. ban on hedgehogs.” Now, mind you, perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed it, bizarre as it was, if Silence Dogood and I didn’t have a dear friend who is absolutely hedgehog-obsessed. But under the circumstances, the word “hedgehog” leapt off the page. What did Bill mean, “Pa. ban on hedgehogs”?!

Apparently, a fifth-grade class wanted to keep one of the cute little animals as a class pet, but on checking things out, their teacher discovered that it’s illegal to own a hedgehog here in Pennsylvania. I’ve only seen one live hedgehog in my life, a half-drowned specimen that managed to drag itself to my tent when I was doing archaeology in England years ago. But soggy as it was, it was endearing, so I could see why the students had decided they’d like to have one around.

The teacher and her class decided to enlist Bill White in the battle to have the anti-hedgehog law repealed (it’s apparently perfectly legal to own pet hedgehogs in 44 states), and his research revealed a Hedgehog Underground Railroad and a Facebook page called “The Cruel Injustice of Hedgehog Genocide in PA.” Who knew?!!

Digging deeper, Bill found that the anti-hedgehog law had come about because the state Game Commission was worried that some hedgehogs might escape into the wild, creating havoc and displacing native species. As a passionate gardener and nature lover, our friend Ben takes their point. With the exception of poison ivy, practically every major pest in our country has been introduced from abroad, either deliberately (kudzu, starlings, multiflora roses, purple loosestrife, house sparrows) or accidentally (Japanese beetles, brown marmorated stink bugs, innumerable weeds). The examples are legion.

Often, these plants, birds, fish, animals and insects aren’t pests in their native habitat, either because the climate limits their spread or because predators have evolved along with them and keep their population in check. Unfortunately, when they’re brought to a new area, the natural checks and balances are left behind. Anyone who’s ever seen a landscape buried under kudzu or a house inundated with stink bugs will appreciate the serious nightmare potential of this situation. Even in less dramatic situations, an unopposed invader can displace and even eliminate the native plants, animals, birds, insects, etc. that have evolved to populate an area, reducing diversity.

Our friend Ben can see the logic behind the law. What I can’t see is why it’s only aimed at hedgehogs. As enthusiastic pet owners, Silence and I have a dog, cats, parakeets, a parrot, and tropical fish. We also raise chickens. None of these are native to North America. Heading to local Pennsylvania pet stores, we see many other non-native birds, not to mention hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, geckos, tropical snakes, goldfish, tropical frogs, etc.etc. Iguanas, guinea pigs, tarantulas, and other creatures native to the Americas—but not the U.S.—are also widely available. Why single out the poor hedgehog for this sort of abuse?! Surely it’s no more likely to escape into the wild than, say, a guinea pig or python.

Perhaps the real key is screening potential pet owners as carefully as shelters screen potential pet adopters, making sure that they’re educated about their pet’s needs and willing to provide them before sending a single pet out of the store. After reading Bill’s column, I’m sure that fifth-grade class would qualify. (Check out the column at www.themorningcall.com and look for additional commentary on Bill’s blog, which you can access at the same address.)

I guess it’s lucky for our friend that her hedgehog is a stuffed toy, or she’d probably be in jail.



1. alan - May 24, 2011

We have an african pygmy hedgehog. She makes a wonderful pet, and would never go feral. She can’t survive freezing temps. Don’t see what the problem is anyway. Hedgehogs are insectavores. I don’t see what the problem is even if they go wild. Just means less bugs…

Ha! Maybe they’d eat stinkbugs…

2. scm - May 25, 2011

Who knew, indeed! Most entertaining post, Ben.
Makes me wonder if it’s illegal to keep ferrets in Pennsylvania. And of course, the logical extension of reducing the risks of take-over pets is to ban cats, or at least outdoor cats. I’d scream louder than all the fifth-graders in the state at the slightest proposal to do so, but I do worry about what our current feral cat armies are doing to wild birds.

Alas, ferrets are readily available in pet stores here. And there is of course the issue of feral cats and dog packs. (Aren’t cats, not to mention bunnies, also an introduced species, considered prime menaces in Australia?) But I think the hands-down most invasive, disruptive, and generally destructive species ever introduced to our country was man!

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