Hedgehog lovers to the rescue in Scots cull drama
LONDON - British hedgehog-lovers are plotting a huge and risky rescue operation after Scottish authorities on Tuesday sentenced thousands of the prickly predators to death by lethal injection.
The cull is due to take place on the Western Isles, off Scotland\'s stormy Atlantic coast, where the egg-eating hedgehogs have been causing havoc among the huge colonies of wading birds.
\"We think it\'s inhumane and barbaric,\" Les Stocker, director of hedgehog preservation group St Tiggywinkles, told Reuters. \"If they\'re going to catch and kill them, why not catch them and give them to us?
\"All sorts of animal groups - at least four of the big ones - will be getting together in the New Year to work out a rescue strategy,\" he added.
George Anderson of Scottish Natural Heritage said the cull next April was essential and warned animal-lovers against attempting a mass evacuation.
\"They are eating their way through the eggs of the native bird population,\" he said, adding: \"We have to accept that there will be some kind of forced evacuation, but no individuals should be trying this.\"
Since four hedgehogs were released on the isle of South Uist in 1974, the population has swelled to 5,000 on a rich diet of rare birds\' eggs, which are laid in nests on the ground.
Populations of Redshank, Ringed Plover and Dunlin have crashed by 40-60 percent in the last two years, said Anderson, and the onslaught is set to resume again in the spring when the hungry hedgehogs emerge from hibernation.
\"When they wake up, they\'ll find all these eggs lying around,\" he said. \"So we\'ll be trapping them in cages baited with fish; anaesthetising them and then giving a lethal injection.\"
He said plans to trap and move the hedgehogs were ditched because many would die in transit from stress, or would starve to death in their new habitats, shouldered out by existing residents.
He added that lethal injection - at about 16 pounds ($25) per animal - was kinder and no more expensive than a bullet.
A similar eradication programme bore fruit earlier this year on the tiny Scottish island of Ailsa Craig, after tons of poison were airlifted in to kill rats and Puffins were able to return to breed for the first time in 50 years.
Stocker said St Tiggywinkles already treats 3,000 injured hedgehogs a year and releases them successfully into the wild. He rejected SNH\'s assertion that many would die from stress during relocation.
\"They transport very well,\" he said by mobile phone. \"In fact I\'ve got one in the car with me now. He\'s from Uist. He\'s just fine.\"
Story by Pete Harrison
REUTERS NEWS PICTURE SERVICE
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