Prickly encounters with late night snurflers

Outdoor Living

CHARMING Frisbee, one of the two inquisitive hedgehog hoglets visiting John Shelley’s garden.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Just now and again, throughout the summer, I caught sight of Gráinneog. She arrived some time in the spring – I heard her in the hedge at night, forcing her way through the undergrowth and searching for scraps to eat, and was determined we should be friends. To that end I thought I should feed her.
Charitable offerings left beneath the apple tree were taken by a variety of animals. The fox still calls by, but is impossibly shy, and I know the badger is an occasional visitor. Pongo the pine marten, or one of his offspring at least, makes a customary diversion as he does his rounds in case there should be something tasty available. And every cat in the neighborhood has become aware of the freebies on offer. One of them uses my boots as a scenting post.
But Gráinneog! I met her one night as I returned from a late session on the lake. There she was, pushing her snout at the roots of the tree, looking for slugs. She froze in the beam of my torch, and rolled herself into a ball of prickles in case I meant her harm. So I sat there awhile and waited.
After five minutes she cautiously poked her nose though a gap in her spiny coat. Then came one eye, with which she regarded me rather coldly. Some ten minutes later she still hadn’t moved so I went away to clean my trout, and when I came back with a fish-head treat she had gone. I laid her meal where I thought she would find it. Ten minutes later it was gone, though which of my guests had enjoyed the meal I have no idea.
After that my sightings of Gráinneog were few, even though the sound of her hunting through the hedgerow has become a familiar one. And then this week I had quite a surprise, when I discovered she had a family, for there beneath the apple tree were two little hoglets, near-identical twins, both making a fair imitation of their mother, huffing and puffing, snurfling and snorting and plowing the uncut grass as they searched out an early supper in the evening light.
Now this was a treat! Unlike Gráinneog they had no fear. When I reached down to scratch one on the nose it opened its jaws and tried to take a bite from my finger before getting back to business. I got chicken from the kitchen and fed first one and then the other. They were utterly charming and ate freely from my hand.
With their bellies full they wanted to leave. The smaller of the two was also the faster. I wondered why, then saw the larger animal was hardly moving its back legs, but seemed inclined to drag them along. What could be the problem?
I took a closer look and found several blood-sucking ticks about the hedgehog’s head, which is a sure sign that something isn’t as it should be. Even as I examined it the poor thing tried desperately to scratch at its ears with those feeble back feet.
European hedgehogs can suffer from something called wobbly hedgehog syndrome, which sounds rather humorous but is not. This is a progressive disease that causes muscle weakness and eventual paralysis. Symptoms typically begin at the rear end, with an unsteady gait that eventually leads to the back legs being dragged along, just as I had seen. There appears to be no treatment available, and nobody seems to know for sure whether this is contagious or not, although the present school of thought suggests this disease is genetic.
The outlook for little Busby the baby Hedgehog is not good. He might live a few months, he might not. I’m certainly not going to shorten his life. As long as he continues to eat well and manages to make his way to and from his home beneath the water tank he shall be free to do so. I don’t think he is suffering at all. He just can’t keep up with Frisbee, his speedy little sister.
Frisbee tried to follow me into the house but couldn’t quite get up the step. I gave Busby’s ticks a sprinkle of flea powder before learning that such a thing can be fatal to hedgehogs – I just hope he is alright. For the time being I shall enjoy them both, and Gráinneog too, as well as I can.