Should rehabilitated hedgehogs be released in winter? A comparison of survival, nest use and weight change in wild and rescued animals

Richard Yarnell, Joanne Surgey, Adam Grogan, Richard Thompson, Kate Davies, Christina Kimborough, Dawn Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The rehabilitation of sick or injured wildlife and their subsequent release back into the wild is considered important, not only for the welfare of the individual animal but also for the conservation and management of endangered and threatened wildlife. The European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus has declined by 25% in Britain over the last decade and is the most common mammal admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centres in Britain, with a large proportion of individuals admitted to gain body weight overwinter prior to release in the Spring. Consequently, many thousands of hedgehogs are housed overwinter which incurs significant costs for rehabilitation centres, and has potentially animal welfare issues, such as, stress in captivity, reintroduction stress, increased mortality risk and impaired or altered behaviour. To determine if releasing rehabilitated hedgehogs during Autumn and Winter had an effect on their survival, body weight, or nesting behaviour, we compared these factors between 34 rehabilitated hedgehogs with 23 wild hedgehogs across five sites in England over four different winters. Overwinter survival was high for both wild and rehabilitated hedgehogs, with a significant decrease in survival across both groups when hedgehogs became active post hibernation in Spring. We found no differences in the survival rates up to 150 days post release, in weight change, or nest use between wild and winter released rehabilitated hedgehogs. Our results suggest that under the correct conditions, rehabilitated hedgehogs can be released successfully during Winter, therefore avoiding or reducing time in captivity
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research
Volume65
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Keywords

  • Rehabilitation release
  • Reintroduction stress
  • Hedgehog
  • radio-telemetry
  • hibernation
  • Overwinter survival

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