Spring is the universal herald of new life, no matter what hemisphere you are in and there is certainly no change in that formula here at the Tikki Hywood Trust. A mere two days later to the date of last year’s spring arrivals, our next generation of hedgehogs have arrived like clockwork! Our first litter of 3 arrived in the afternoon of Friday 18th September 2009 and two days later another three litters, 8, 3 and 2 to three mothers respectively. This is the 2nd generation of captive bred hedgehogs born at the Trust and it certainly seems that we have cracked the formula. However, we still are a little shell-shocked at how prolifically our hedgehogs seem to pop them out!
Our last blog was rather sad to say the least what with having to implant all the animals (except the hedgehogs), to prevent them from breeding. It has to be said we did not quite expect the amazing explosion of hoglets that we were to receive!!! The first seventy-two hours is always a nerve-wracking experience with new hoglets, and in this case what made it even more complicated was that the first birth occurred in a communal enclosure with eight female hedgehogs and it was not immediately apparent who the mother was! There in a nest of hay lay three very ugly (yes, hoglets when they are first born are incredible ugly), hoglets. Eventually we were able to determine the birth mother, and we were impressed to note that it was Beatrix. She had three litters last year, so not only has she proved to be very fertile but she also has raised her young well. We removed Beatrix & babies straight away from the main enclosure that had seven other lady hogs. We put her in a smaller enclosure, so that she did not feel pressured by the other hedgehogs and could focus on raising her young.
However, the following day turned out to be even more surprising to find that at approximately the same time as the previous day another three mothers gave birth – all in the same place! It was not an easy task sorting these three litters from each other but we managed to do so, and each mother was placed in an isolated and secluded place in which to raise the young. The mothers were then closely monitored over the next 48 hours. The first day went well and Beatrix and the other females proved to be diligent mums. On the third day things start to go a little wrong. When inspecting the first litter of hoglets in the morning, we noticed that two of them had been badly bitten and were not lying close to Beatrix. This could have be as a result of two things; one, the babies could have had a congenital and or hereditary defect which is why Beatrix was trying to kill them, or with the stress of being moved she was now uncertain of her new environment. The first result was the one we feared the most, and so we removed the two babies and decided to attempt hand raising. We removed the smallest, weighing 10g and the one that seemed to be the most bitten, which weighed 16g. We also decided to try a new milk formula called ESBILAC©, which had proved highly successful for the bat-eared foxes and is a completely balanced and vitamin enhanced formula. Getting the hoglets started on this milk was not a difficult task, they readily took to it and after about the fourth feed came to associate the curved syringe with food.
However, after a few days we noticed that although their spines were growing, their bodies were not developing and in fact their weight had dropped.
The babies were removed on 21st September 2009. The smallest one appeared under developed at birth and so prognosis was not good to start off with. We unfortunately lost this little on the following Saturday, 26th. He had dropped 2g in weight from 10g to 8g at the time of death. The larger one of the two survived until 1st October 2009 and during that time the weight fluctuated 2g either side of the initial weight. Her final weight at the point of death was 2g heavier, but in comparison to the other hoglets the same age that were suckling naturally, she was a third of the size. We are happy to report that the remaining hoglets with their mothers are exceptionally happy and healthy.
Beatrix has successfully raised her one remaining hoglet who we have nick named Sharpei as with all that extra milk from mum, has become a huge Rolly Polly and looks just like one of those Sharpei dogs!
The female who gave birth to 8 is Miss Tiggy, who also bred successfully last season having had two litters. However it is very difficult for the mother to cope with so many babies seeing as she only has six mammaries and eight mouths to feed. Unfortunately two of the babies did not survive, and this goes to show how nature has a way of balancing out at times. One of our main concerns with large litters is a condition in the mother called “milk fever”.
Milk fever, or post-parturient hypocalcemia, is a disease, which is characterized by reduced blood calcium levels. It is most common in the first few days of lactation, when demand for calcium for milk production exceeds the body’s ability to mobilize calcium reserves.
“Fever” is a misnomer, as body temperature during the disease is usually below normal. Low blood calcium levels interfere with muscle function throughout the body, causing general weakness, loss of appetite, and eventually heart failure.
To prevent milk fever we automatically administer an injection of Calcitad, which is made up of Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus. This boosts the mother’s available calcium, prevents and treats milk fever and avoids the potential of taking the babies away.
One of the younger females, who was also a first time mother, developed milk fever on the fifth day after giving birth (although she only had two hoglets and lost both at 3 days old). She was very wobbly and lethargic, so she got a shot of Calcitad and we placed her in an outside enclosure where she was surrounded by the other female hedgehogs. In my experience with working with wildlife, once an animal gives up the desire to live there is very little you can do to reverse that decision for them. But, by placing them with other animals of their own kind you hope to stimulate that survivor instinct! It worked, and she is now doing well and has fully recovered from her ordeal of pregnancy, giving birth as well as getting milk fever. Such a lot for a small mammal to contend with!!
So to date we have an addition of nine healthy hoglets with three respective mums. They all have remained with their mothers and are doing well. We will wean them once they are on solids, at approximately 6 weeks and then, habituate them to outside enclosures in preparation for release in Esigodini, an area in the south of the country where we are developing a hedgehog release site.
Stay tuned for more prickly updates as they happen!