Sure signs that spring is right around the corner include longer days, the first blossoms, the appearance of buds on some trees—and the return of the hedgehogs that are awakening from their hibernation. If you have yet to witness these adorable little creatures (called “Igel” in German), they are abundant in Basel and its surrounding areas.
The European hedgehog is a small spiny animal about the size of a large guinea pig. Because of its spines it is reminiscent of a porcupine, but is actually more closely related to the shrew. The animal defends itself by curling into a little ball when scared or threatened, but while you cannot pick up a hedgehog because of its spines, they are not barbed or poisonous. Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures, so you will only really see them if you are out in your garden at dusk or after dark. Bring a flashlight and listen for the gentle rustling sound they make as they waddle through the brush. They sleep for a large part of the day in shallow underground dens or under bushes, rocks, or other ground covers, such as tall grass, decomposing leaves, or vines. They are kindly regarded by the Swiss, who encourage their presence in their gardens, as they feast mainly on insects, slugs, and snails, and are therefore a biologically sound way to get rid of those slimy lettuce-eaters. In fact, a single hedgehog can keep an average garden free of pests by eating up to 200 grams of insects and slugs each night!
Not only are hedgehogs well appreciated here, they are also well protected in Switzerland and are supported by many organizations like “pro Igel” (http://pro-igel.ch), “Igelzentrum” (http://igelzentrum.ch), “Ostschweizerische Igelfreunde-Verein” (https://www.igelverein.ch/), “Igelzentrum Zürich” (https://www.igelzentrum.ch/), as well as general animal protection organizations (http://www.tierschutz.com/), which has a special division for hedgehogs. When driving out of Basel and into Baselland, you may also see signs on the side of rural highways cautioning drivers to watch out for hedgehogs. In addition, animal protection agencies have launched a large awareness campaign warning people against the use of string-trimmers (weed-whackers, whipper-snippers) to trim gardens. These are the number-one danger to hedgehogs as they can injure the animals and eventually lead to the slow and painful death of these small creatures that are too slow or scared to flee the loud and powerful tools. If you keep your garden as natural as possible, you may be lucky enough to house a family of hedgehogs. If you think that you may have found a hedgehog in trouble, check out one of the many sites listed above for information or call the animal protection services in Basel for advice (Schweizer Tierschutz STS, Fachstelle Wildtiere, Dornacherstrasse 101, Basel) at 061-365-9999.