Ecorubric 13:28 20 Dec 2023

Ukraine's first hedgehog shelter: how two volunteers take care of spiky creatures?

They are cute, prickly, and have different personalities – these are visitors of Ukraine's only care center, called First Private Hedgehog Shelter. They are here to recover after injuries and exhaustion. Two Kyiv volunteers take care of the patients in their own apartments. Rubryka found out which hedgehogs they treat, how to help them properly, and why they should not be fed with milk.

What is the problem?

Combat tensions are mercilessly destroying Ukraine's natural diversity and killing its species. Loud shelling, multiple hits, and the movement of heavy machinery kills and injures hedgehogs. Though there is no professional research on the war's impact on hedgehogs, there still are few Ukrainian specialists in such treatment. Transporting a found hedgehog to a veterinarian may not always save its life, as the animal may die of existing injuries or illness on the way.

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A hedgehog with a flag/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

Hedgehogs hibernate every winter, but the loud sounds on the battlefield can wake them up. Winter warming, which can quickly switch to frost, is also another issue. A hedgehog will start looking for food, but the cold will likely cause him to die. The animal can also be hit by a car or bitten by a dog.

When a person spots a hedgehog on the street and wants to help it, he should understand how not to cause any harm, how to feed it, and how to arrange the space for the animal. The viral advice to feed the hedgehog with milk will only complicate the animal's condition.

Founder of the First Private Hedgehog Shelter, Kyrylo Taler, explains how to provide first aid to a hedgehog and how to treat it.

Кирило Талер

Kyrylo with a hedgehog

What is the solution?

Two volunteers nurse sick and injured hedgehogs at the First Private Hedgehog Shelter in Kyiv. Kyrylo Taler and his partner Hanna-Solomiya Urahan care for their patients at their house. This is Ukraine's first shelter that provides help exclusively to these animals.

The shelter was established in 2017 when Kyrylo adopted a hedgehog named Gliutcha that had to be housed for winter. As it became warm, Kyrylo had to return the healthy animal back to nature. Although he had no experience caring for such animals before, he managed to nurse the hedgehog by finding tips from foreign communities.

Kyrylo lives alone in the apartment with his hedgehogs but says the neighbors have been okay with keeping them. Solomiia's family also approves of having hedgehogs and helps with their care.

How does it work?

Hundreds of rescued hedgehogs and cubs

The hedgehogs live in the shelter in different conditions and injuries. Most often, they come after being attacked by dogs, run over by a bicycle, or hit by a car. Sometimes, hedgehogs can be exhausted from being stuck or falling and staying for a long time without food. Kyrylo and Solomiia also house newborn cubs whose mothers may have died during the hedgehog season. He cannot say the exact number of animals he has rescued but says that he started keeping records of his patients in 2021:

"This year, we have 37 hedgehogs. Last year, there were 29. These are not just hedgehogs but also litters. There were about 50 last year and 85 in 2021. As you can see, the count has gone into hundreds," Kyrylo said.

Кирило Талер

Kyrylo with hedgehogs

Kyrylo has a record number of hedgehogs in rehabilitation, about 20, and Solomiya has about 30. The number has risen with the birth of cubs. As Kyrylo says, one female may bring as many as ten cubs, but the litter usually includes four to six animals. Taking care of them requires a lot of effort in feeding them because the mother can abandon her cubs:

"The female might not have been ready to reproduce, but the male hedgehog did his job. She gave birth but feeling the cold, she can either abandon the cubs or even eat them," the founder said.

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Newborn hedgehogs/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

"Every hedgehog has its personality"

The shelter houses hedgehogs in enclosures and cages. Each is given a name, often chosen by the place where the animal was found. For example, Paul got his name from the Aunt Polly restaurant near Holosiivskyi Park in Kyiv, where he was found.

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Kondratykha, the hedgehog found in Kyiv/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

"Some hedgehogs are very friendly with humans. They become affectionate, like cats. They can even sleep in a human's arms. There are also those who miss nature. You can see from them that they want to be free, to run on the grass, but they don't like houses very much. Each hedgehog is unique, each hedgehog has a personality," Kyrylo said.

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Hrysha, the rescued hedgehog

Although Kyrylo doesn't have any favorites among the animals, he tells us about one of his spiky friends. The hedgehog got used to him as if he were a family member: "She was healthy and missed me when I went to the store for an hour. She would sit on the chair where I usually do and wait for me. She was even offended when I left her alone." Due to the outbreak of the full-scale war, Kyrylo sent the hedgehog to Poland, where she keeps staying.

After rehabilitation in the shelter, hedgehogs are returned to the wild. If the animal has any limitations for a full life in the wild, it is released to the area where it can be spectated and fed.

There are cases when a hedgehog dies during treatment. Kyrylo recalls taking care of his patient with a traumatic brain injury. He took it to different clinics and spent a lot to save its life. Yet the hedgehog died in three weeks.

"When a hedgehog comes to me and I see serious problems, I bring him to a veterinarian. I then follow his treatment recommendations. After all, I am a caretaker and a zoo volunteer, and I know the habits of hedgehogs that a veterinarian doesn't. I can communicate with the hedgehog in a way that a vet cannot, but I cannot do his job. I am not a doctor."

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Hrysha, the hedgehog/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

Kyrylo shares stories about the hedgehogs on his Facebook page. He also talks about the shelter's affairs and its urgent needs. You can also find photos and videos of the hedgehogs in the shelter's telegram channel.

Online sessions on hedgehog's care

Being located in Kyiv, Kyrylo often provides assistance through phone calls or social media. He explains how to care for a hedgehog properly, however, if necessary, the animal can also be taken to a shelter if its condition allows transportation.

The military also attends these sessions. For example, Ukrainian troops used Kyrylo's advice and saved a hedgehog on the frontline. Although they had no experience in rescuing animals, they found the contacts of the founder:

"The soldier I talked to even joked that the soldiers needed help themselves, yet they still brought a hedgehog," Kyrylo said.


Kyrylo Taler, founder of the First Private Hedgehog Shelter, with an animal

Kyrylo also helped rescue hedgehogs in the occupied territories, particularly when heavy fighting began around Bakhmut. A woman cared for the animal and specifically sought a mobile connection to attend the session. The founder admits the challenge, as it was extremely difficult to buy and find medicines and the conditions people endure.

"People in difficult circumstances rescue hedgehogs because it's a way to hold on when the world is falling apart around you. You do something useful that makes you feel like you control something. It's a little bit of a positivity. It may seem that your life is almost ruined, but you still try to care about some animal and not go crazy," Kyrylo said.

Don't feed hedgehogs with milk!

When people spot hedgehogs, they are often eager to feed them milk. They shouldn't do it because milk only harms the animal. Kyrylo says the hedgehog's pancreas does not produce enzymes to digest the lactose. In the best-case scenario, the hedgehog will have an upset stomach after drinking it, and in the worst, it will die. Hedgehogs should not eat flour and avocados, too.

Кирило Талер

Kyrylo Taler with his hedgehog

Hedgehogs can eat unsalted, low-fat, and unsweetened food. It can be cat pate or dry food, soup, eggs, chicken, or its offal, such as liver, or hearts. You can give low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt. The food preferences of hedgehogs can vary. Some of them may like apples, while others may like bananas, carrots, or potatoes.

"A hedgehog is an insectivorous animal. Therefore, for its health, chitin, and needles, it needs to eat zophobas, crickets, and cockroaches," Kyrylo said.

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A hedgehog with Zophobas worm/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

If I adopt a hedgehog, would it eat household roaches?

Adopting a hedgehog to eliminate cockroaches at home is not the best solution. Eating them can be dangerous for hedgehogs.

Each animal has its own preferences, so it can either hunt domestic cockroaches or not. These species can have parasites that can then enter its body. Even though they can resist toxic substances, hedgehogs may not be in the best condition after eating cockroaches poisoned by neighbors.

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Paws of hedgehogs/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

Hedgehogs scare away mice and snakes as they hunt their nests and eat the eggs of birds.

How to behave when you spot a hedgehog?

1️⃣ Examine the animal for wounds, parasites, and injuries.

"Assess its condition. If it looks like a long sausage, with a visible neck and shoulder blades, then the hedgehog is exhausted. When it is healthy, it is round, like a ball. If the hedgehog is lying on its side and cannot get up, it is injured," the expert said.

2️⃣ Contact the veterinarians or the shelter owners, Kyrylo or Hanna-Solomiya.

3️⃣If the hedgehog is exhausted, then it can be taken home. You must carry an animal through a layer of clothes or special mittens and put it in a box or bag, leaving air access.

4️⃣ If the hedgehog is frail, wounded, and sleepy, it should put a heating pad that will warm the animal. A hedgehog can die from injuries while asleep.

5️⃣ Feed the hedgehog with allowed products, but not milk or avocado.

How to treat the found hedgehog?

Caring is not difficult, says Kyrylo. If the hedgehog needs to be treated, you should be ready for procedures 4-5 times daily. A healthy animal should be fed 2-3 times daily and change the litter.

When a hedgehog first gets home, he must quarantine for ten days to avoid rabies.

"If you took a hedgehog home, try to handle it carefully for the first ten days. Keep your hands away from his face so he doesn't bite you. Also, rabies in the body can get through a puncture from the needles. Hedgehogs lick them. In addition, they need to be gnawed. I use Kanikwantel for this. "

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Hedgehog eating its meal/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

It is vital to equip a place for a hedgehog properly. It won't stay long in a box because it can run away. The owners must decide exactly whether the animal will live in free-range or closed space. You must close the holes and cracks where the hedgehog can hide. The animal can make a kind of "hut" from a carrier for cats or dogs.

"I used to let at least one hedgehog run on the floor constantly. But be ready to clean often because it's not so easy to teach hedgehogs to the tray. It is possible to do it, but it is necessary to trace when it wants to in a toilet and to drop it in the necessary place. Usually, hedgehogs choose one or two corners and do all their business there," Kyrylo said.

If you plan to have more than one hedgehog, then be prepared that there will be a struggle for territory between the males.

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Sleeping hedgehog/First Private Hedgehog Shelter

Although their needles seem dangerous, hedgehogs won't protect themselves from the consequences of war on their own. You need to help hedgehogs, otherwise, animals may even be listed in the Ukrainian book of rare species. You can support the shelter with donations by contacting Kyrylo.


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