New research on the effects of rehabilitation on European hedgehogs

June 1, 2021

Our research associate Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen has recently published research on comparing the stress levels and post release survival of rehabilitated and wild European hedgehogs.

Whilst the European population of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) is declining, welfare initiatives such as the rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs are increasingly popular. However, wild animals placed in captivity may be prone to chronic stress, potentially causing negative health effects. By measuring stress hormone levels in wild-caught and rehabilitated hedgehogs, Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen and her colleagues found that rehabilitated individuals had higher levels of faecal and salivary corticosterone metabolites compared to wild individuals. This calls for consideration of the amount of time hedgehogs spend in wildlife rehabilitation centres in order to reduce stress levels and the potentially negative long-term effects. The research team also found that neither background (wild-caught or hand-raised) nor personality (bold or shy) affected post release survival of juvenile hedgehogs, supporting the case for hand-raising orphaned juvenile hedgehogs as a relevant contribution to the conservation of this species.

The research was performed in collaboration with Associate Professor Otto Kalliokoski and Associate Professor Klas Abelson from Department of Experimental Medicine University of Copenhagen, and Professor Emeritus Torben Dabelsteen from Department of Biology, Section for Ecology and Evolution, University of Copenhagen.

The work was funded by Dyrenes Beskyttelse (Animal Protection Denmark), British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Department of Experimental Medicine at the University of Copenhagen, Otto Bruun Foundation, Lars Eduard Troelstrup and wife Else Troelstrup Foundation, Christen Møller Sørensen and wife Marie Christine Sørensen Foundation and Headmistress Sigrid Hansen’s Scholarship.

Rasmussen, S.L., Kalliokoski, O., Dabelsteen, T. and Abelson, K., 2021. An exploratory investigation of glucocorticoids, personality and survival rates in wild and rehabilitated hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in Denmark. BMC ecology and evolution21(1), pp.1-16.

Disclaimer for photos: In these photographs, Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen is handling juvenile, live hedgehogs. The necessary permits for including these individuals in her research were obtained from the Danish Nature Agency.