More than 266,000 people in France have signed a petition calling for measures to save hedgehogs after the organiser said that the population is threatened and in decline due to climate change.
Permaculturist (sustainable ecosystem expert) Jean-Xavier Duhart started the petition with a view to presenting it to President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to change the law.
The petition aims to get to 300,000 signatures and, if it reaches that goal, it will be one of the top campaigns currently on the Change.org website.
Hedgehogs in decline due to climate change
Mr Duhart, who is the head of hedgehog welfare association Sauvons les hérissons - Biodiversité en Danger, said that hedgehogs were a victim of environmental change. Changing seasons and warming temperatures can disrupt the mammal’s hibernation schedules.
However, Mr Duhart said that the animal’s current status as a protected species actually prevents people from picking them up or helping them even if they need it.
He said: "We are asking for the creation of a hedgehog ‘eco-citizen status’ so that people can care for them, along with a veterinarian. Because caring for these animals requires professional support.”
He said that it can be difficult to estimate the extent of the decline in the hedgehog population in France, as there are no precise figures but that they could face virtual extinction in France by as early as 2025.
However, the petition text compares the situation in France to that in Britain. A report published last year by the British Society for the Conservation of Hedgehogs in Rural Areas found that over a period of 20 years, the decline has been between 30 and 75% depending on the area.
Pesticide use a factor
Climate change is not the only reason cited for the animal’s decline.
Patrick Haffner, a mammal specialist at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, told Radio Classique that pesticide use had contributed to a major reduction in its main food sources, and that changing farming practices had contributed to the disappearance of hedges, one of the animal’s main habitats.
He said: “There are, for example, far fewer insects and invertebrates, due to changes in agricultural practices and the use of pesticides. [And] there are certainly fewer favourable areas in the countryside.”
Hedgehogs as pets?
Mr Haffner also said that he believes that hedgehogs could become a “quasi-domestic” species, just as they have in the UK. There, he said that hedgehogs tend to be found in urban areas with gardens and green spaces, which act as a refuge for the creatures.
However, some experts deny that this would be a good thing.
Toulouse-based vet Guillaume Le Loc’h, who runs the city’s wildlife care centre and also teaches at the city’s veterinary school, said that he would not be in favour of relaxing the rules around picking up or caring for hedgehogs.
He said: ”This species is the most common to be received in wildlife care centres. Not because of a threat but because people are more likely to pick up hedgehogs.
“However, feeding a hedgehog [domestic pet food such as] cat food is harmful to the species as it could lose its adaptation to life in the wild.”
He said that he did not believe hedgehogs should be classified as a ‘NAC’, meaning nouveau animaux de compagnie (‘new pets’), a category that also includes rats, snakes, iguanas, and ferrets.