One woman, 140 hedgehogs: German rescue centre at full capacity

By Ute Wessels, dpa

A woman in southern Germany has taken it upon herself to take care of more than 140 hedgehogs who are sick or malnourished. The cute and prickly creatures must be weighed and fed daily – a full-time job.

The small hedgehog swallows greedily. He is lying on his back in the hand of Monika Luedtke, who is holding a syringe to his mouth. The little creature weighs less than 150 grams, and it’s not clear to the animal keeper whether he’ll survive.

The hedgehog needs to weigh at least 1 kilogram to hibernate, she explains. In her home in the southern German town of Bad Griesbach, the 65-year-old woman has taken in more than 140 hedgehogs in need.

Her private rescue centre is completely at capacity, Luedtke says, and she is on duty around the clock.

The animals each have their own plastic box, with a little carton as a hut, stuffed with old newspapers for the hedgehogs to bury themselves in. The plastic boxes are stacked almost up to the ceiling in the former farmhouse. Little noises, like panting or coughing, can be heard emanating from the boxes – several of the hedgehogs are ill.

It’s almost impossible to move around Luedtke’s home. The hallway is stacked with newspapers, the kitchen and counter are full of countless containers of food, medication and syringes. Everything for the spiky little creatures. There is a pungent smell in the air.

Luedtke lives in an apartment on the first floor, with her husband and 24 year-old daughter. Her day starts at 6:15 am. She cleans every box, then weighs each animal. Every hedgehog has its own flash card on which Luedtke records its health status and weight progression.

Whichever hedgehog reaches 1 kilogram is ready for hibernation, she says. People from the whole region have been bringing the animals to her station, but she does not have any space for more, she says.

Many of them are malnourished. They usually feed on insects, but simply can’t find sufficient food anymore. Before they go hungry, they often eat snails instead, which can cause lung worms and a cough. Luedtke buys the appropriate medication at the vet, spending more than 500 euros (560 dollars) on it each year, adding to the 1,000 euros already spent on food and the water bill for cleaning.

Most expenses Luedtke covers privately, although some of it is paid by donations. “I can’t say no,” she confesses. She feels sorry for the cute little animals, whose habitat is being destroyed by humans.

Their greatest enemy, besides cars? “Dogs, lawn-mowing robots, basement shafts, fine-meshed fences,” she lists.

Some hedgehogs are in a miserable state. One got stuck in a fence and was attacked by chickens. Another chewed off his own paw while trying to free himself from a fence.

Luedtke carefully places the hedgehog back in his box. Time to weigh another hedgehog. Luedtke places an older candidate in a bowl on the kitchen scales, which shows just about a kilo – the little guy is ready for hibernation. She holds him up to the camera for a picture, and he starts grunting. “He doesn’t like it”, she says and smiles, before stroking his prickly head and putting him in his carton.

A farmer lends Luedtke an empty stable for the hibernating hedgehogs. That’s where her husband is now taking the boxes with the well-fed candidates. They stay in their winter residence until March or April, then they are returned to the wild, explains Luedtke. She is hoping to received some state funding or to cooperate with another association to share costs and efforts in the next few years.

She points out that it is only allowed to catch and take in hedgehogs in need. The environmental NGO BUND recommends that garden owners construct piles of leaves throughout the year and cover them with a tarpaulin, as well as forgoing mowing robots and leaf vacuums.

Luedtke is busy cleaning and weighing the animals until the afternoon, then she readies their food. Each day, it amounts to six kilograms of minced beef stirred with 50 eggs, together with some oats and ready-made animal food. The little ones love it. And finally, once evening’s arrived, Luedtke’s done with the hedgehogs.

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