This month’s National Geographic cover features an African Pygmy hedgehog (APH), a cute picture to draw readers in to a debate about exotic pets. However, hedgehogs are not mentioned in the actual article: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/exotic-pets/slater-text#
Hedgehogs may seem smaller and easier to deal with than the tigers and kangaroos discussed in the piece, but this does not necessarily make them an ideal pet. Firstly, they are nocturnal so will not be active when you may want them to be. Furthermore, hedgehogs can cover several kilometres in a single evening, and therefore, require lots of exercise. They also eat a highly varied diet, which is hard to replicate in captivity.
African pygmy hedgehogs are becoming popular in the UK. As APHs are domesticated and would not survive in the wild, they should not be confused with our native European hedgehogs. A recent article by Dr Daniel Allen has exposed recent cases of APHs being rescued by traditionally European hedgehog sanctuaries: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-daniel-allen/pet-crazes-african-pygmy-hedgehogs_b_4843939.html who knows how many owners, who cannot cope with caring for the animal any longer, have released the APH assuming that they will survive.
Allen suggests that the recent increase in pet hedgehogs is due to cute hedgehog pictures on YouTube and Twitter (and now in National Geographic!). I agree. As a researcher of European hedgehogs myself, I often get directed to pictures of hogs on social media by friends. Nine times out of ten these are APHs and I repeatedly tell my friends: "That's the wrong type, they are not native!" This confusion could lend itself to aspiring hedgehog owners trying to keep European hedgehogs as pets; this is both irresponsible and illegal in the UK.
What are exotic pets? Who owns them? And is bringing a supposedly domesticated wild animal into a home ever a good idea?