‘The first baby hedgehog we rescued was love-at-first-sight’

We speak to an expert about her hedgehog health centre and how to make your garden more hedgehog-friendly

Sara Stahl had to train for many years before setting up the centre Les P’tits Kipik (the little ones that prick)
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Sara Stahl’s love affair with hedgehogs happened unexpectedly, after rescuing one in 2008.

She tried to seek advice from health centres before eventually undertaking training to properly understand the hedgehog.

This was back when France had only a handful of centres dedicated to the animal, one of the oldest and most renowned being Le sanctuaire des hérissons, a hedgehog sanctuary founded in 1998 by a couple who had rescued an injured hedgehog.

While the sanctuary was going to call her rescued hedgehog Murphy, Ms Stahl chose Ci wèi, which is hedgehog in Chinese.

Read more: How to build a cosy hedgehog cabin

Hedgehog increasingly endangered

After years of training, Ms Stahl was permitted to set up her own health centre, Les P’tits Kipik (the little ones that prick) in Orsay (Essonne), before three others opened in Rueil-Malmaison (Hauts-de-Seine), Saint-Maur-des-Fossés (Val-de-Marne) and Chevreuse (Yvelines.)

Since she opened her centre, 520 hedgehogs have been rescued, with the four other centres taking 419 of them in 2022, a number that has exponentially increased over the years.

The Connexion interviewed Ms Stahl, one of the fresh faces of a new generation of French people looking to save an animal increasingly endangered by the changing condition of its environment.

Protected status prevents people helping

Ms Stahl’s fight for the improvement of hedgehogs’ well-being has helped foster a resurgence of interest in the animal.

A recent petition calling for measures to save them was signed by more than 268,000 people, with a goal of gaining 300,000 signatures.

Read more: Petition to change law to help hedgehogs survive in France gains pace

At the heart of it lies a change in the animal’s current status as a protected species, since it prevents people from picking them up or helping them even if they need it.

In addition, Ms Stahl gave Connexion readers advice on how to make a garden hedgehog friendly.

How did you become interested in hedgehogs?

It came a little bit by surprise.

My husband and I found a baby hedgehog in our garden in 2008. At the time, we moved heaven and earth to find a health centre.

It took a while before we discovered La Faune sauvage in Maison Alfort, a part of Maison Alfort’s veterinary school.

We volunteered for a while before I thought “I could open my own centre...”.

I created my association in 2008. But to do that, you have to prove you have two years of active experience with the animal you want to take care of. It took me six years at Maison Alfort where I took many, many lessons.

The first baby hedgehog we rescued was a real love-at-first-sight story that took us down a route we had never expected.

Did you keep the same hedgehog for ten years? I have read that their life expectancy rarely reaches higher than seven years. Only one in every 10,000 makes it to ten years old.

Oh, it is worse than that right now. It has fallen to two years, it’s a catastrophe.

We have not kept the same hedgehog because this is not what a health centre is meant for.

The idea is to release the animal into its natural habitat as fast as possible.

If the hedgehog cannot be released, sadly it has to be euthanized. It goes against the natural order of things to keep them. We are not zoos or sanctuaries.

Have you seen an increasing number of people finding hedgehogs?

It is exponential. I see it in my centre in Orsay but throughout every one of France’s health centres as well.

There are two reasons.

First, the population is more aware of their condition and the animal is easy to grab. But on the other hand, the increase is mainly caused by humans.

Could you give a complete picture of the hardships they face?

There are many. The disruption to their territory due to human infrastructure such as roads, train tracks, canals, etc. isolates hedgehog colonies, because many remain insurmountable to them.

This results in less genetic diversity, which leads to in-breeding and a weakening of the species.

Read more: Why are death rates rising among hedgehogs in France?

I have read that seeing a hedgehog in broad daylight is an anomaly…

That’s correct. Because it lives in the shadows mainly.

A hedgehog in broad daylight is a really bad sign.

Coming back to the reasons, gardeners have their share as well, from using strimmers, and robot mowers during the night which can kill them.

Likewise, they drown in swimming-pools because they cannot escape once they have fallen into the water. Every hole from which they cannot escape is a trap.

Lastly, anti-slug sugared tablets or rat poison are killers too.

A recent French study showed that there is a surplus mortality of hedgehogs because their metabolism has weakened.

They now die from overheating, something they were capable of regulating before, or from parasites they used to be able to conquer.

Are you given pet hedgehogs?

It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in France.

I am asking you this after watching a report on Swiss television where someone with tears in her eyes brings in a pet hedgehog…

Yes, I have watched it as well. It is because Swiss regulations are different from ours.

Citizens have the right there to supervise hedgehogs provided by health centres.

Do you think that a change in French regulations would improve conditions for hedgehogs?

Yes. I think health centres must be able to entrust hedgehogs to selected people who have followed training provided by health centres. It would alleviate our lack of space.

Right now, my centre is packed with 27 hedgehogs in perfect condition, but that I cannot yet release because it is still the hibernation period.

How long are the hedgehogs kept in health centres on average, not taking into consideration their hibernation period?

It depends on the severity of the disease or the trauma.

Pulmonary maggots take three weeks, whereas ringworm takes four weeks.

If its back was injured by a lawnmower, it can take even longer.

What advice would you give to our readers about making their gardens more hedgehog friendly?

There are many things you can do.

If you want to provide space for hedgehogs in your garden, you should create a path or route to let them in. Stop enclosing your garden.

Leave wild areas with dead leaves and grass because it creates a microfauna that brings insects that are the main source of food for them.

You could also leave a shallow dish of water or cat food, but never milk.

Avoid using pesticides and stop turning on your robots overnight.

If you find a weakened hedgehog, take a cardboard box with a towel placed at the bottom, put on gloves, and put the hedgehog in it.

Place a hot water bottle in there to prevent it from getting hypothermia. Then call the nearest health centre.

Read more: Plea for French residents not to cut hedges in spring to help wildlife

Do you still consider the word ‘hedgehog’ appropriate?

Completely. This is also the reason why they left rural areas.

In the 60s and 70s, rural areas and the countryside suffered from a programme that removed most hedges, hence destroying hedgehogs’ natural habitat.

They usually lived by rivers and not in forests or plain fields.

They now seek out hedges in our gardens and in suburban areas.

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