HIBERNATING hedgehogs are the focus of a new RSPCA study at Fairlight’s Mallydams Wildlife Centre to assess new ways of helping hogs survive the bitter winter months.
Partnered with the University of Reading, experts will tag the cute creatures with tiny transmitters to monitor their hibernation patterns, behaviour and locations.
They will be analysed to see how well they cope and researchers will use this information to help hedgehogs which aren’t able to fend for themselves.
From the study, experts will be able to determine the exact weight the animal needs to reach to survive the cold winter, although it is currently believed that any hedgehog over 500g should outlast the weather.
Rescued hedgehogs handed into the RSPCA will be the subject of the Mallydams project while Reading University will find and tag ones already in their natural habitat. The two types will be compared in terms of survival techniques and aptitude.
Seven rehabilitated hedgehogs from Mallydams were released into the countryside last month, and early results show they are behaving just like wild ones, and suffer the same problems.
One of the setbacks that could be encountered includes the hedgehogs developing Lung Worm, a common life-threatening infection contracted by eating diseased slugs and snails.
The study will last over four years and aims to follow more than 40 hedgehogs and is the first time information about hedgehogs’s winter hibernation has been recorded.
One of the study’s co-ordinators and Mallydams’ manager Richard Thompson said of the ones which have already been released: “They’re still alive, but we don’t know if they’re going to survive over the next four months. That time is critical for them.”
Senior scientific officer Adam Grogan said: “This new research should help us when advising whether hedgehogs need to be brought into care by providing more information on how they survive hibernation. Our ethos has always been to keep wildlife wild. We hope that these hedgehogs can teach us ways of helping other hedgehogs through this difficult time.”
The RSPCA recommends that if a hedgehog is under the target weight of 500g then it should be brought into a rescue centre.
People are advised to feed them scrambled eggs, minced meat and fresh water rather than bread and milk because they are intolerant to cow’s milk.
Call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 to report a sick or injured hedgehog.