Whether or not you’ve seen these cute critters wandering the hutongs, we’ve started to hear more reports of hedgehog sightings in and around Beijing in the past few months, including four stories from within our City Weekend crew. So we’re left wondering where did these little guys come from, or have they always been around and just been better at avoiding contact with people?
Thus far we’ve heard reports of hedgehog sightings in various locations in the Gulou area, which isn’t too surprising as that neighborhood tends to attract more wildlife like weasels and ferrets with its winding hutongs. A vet at Doctors Beck & Stone also told us that he recently found one in his yard in Shunyi, and we’ve heard a story about one family adopting a wandering hedgehog out in Changping.
We were lucky enough to get in touch with Mary Peng at the International Center for Veterinary Services who gave us the scoop on hedgehogs and other wild creatures roaming the streets of Beijing while we’re not looking.
According to Mary, most of these animals, hedgehogs included, have always been here, but as the city expands and develops more, we’re encroaching on their natural habitat and taking over their territory, especially out in places like Shunyi that were just open fields until a decade or two ago. These animals tend to adapt and find new spaces to burrow in despite the displacement.
The availability of food also allows hedgehogs to survive in urban environments, especially one like Beijing where every vegetable stand and restaurant throws leftovers onto the streets each night. We might as well be presenting these animals Thanksgiving feasts each night with the amount of food that’s left out on the streets. Hedgehogs tend to eat a range of fruits and vegetables along with cat food that’s left out for a neighbor’s pet, so there are plenty of these foods available in Beijing for the hedgehog community to thrive on.
One reason we might be seeing more hedgehogs leaving their hedges right now is due to the time of the year. Spring is in the air, and similar to most other animals, that means it’s mating season. Hedgehogs have now come out of hibernation and, while they’re usually solitary creatures and live alone, might be seeking out mates right now to produce a few more little hedgehogs to decorate our gardens and alleyways. Don’t be surprised if in a few months you see mini hedgehogs scavenging for food at night as well.
While some may find hedgehogs adorable and cuddly (despite the spines), the ones you find on the mean streets of Beijing are not safe to take home as pets. Hedgehogs that are kept as pets in the U.S. and other countries are generally bred in captivity and raised domesticated. The hedgehogs you’ll find here are wild and therefore can be dangerous if taken home to become a pet. They can bite and carry a range of diseases, so it’s best to leave these wild hedgehogs as they are--wild.
Despite not being ideal candidates for pets (at least in Beijing), remember that hedgehogs are still our friends in the wild. Classified as insectivores, hedgehogs are a great advantage to many gardens as they eat many of the unwanted bugs and insects in the shrubbery. And while they mainly prey on insects, they’ll also chow down on mice and rats frequently, taking care of any rodent problems as well. In Europe and the UK, many gardeners actually try to encourage hedgehogs to take up residence in their yards by leaving small holes in their fences and certain hedgehog-friendly treats nearby to entice them in.
In China, hedgehogs have never been particularly relevant to Chinese culture or customs. However, according to a local vet, in ancient China hedgehogs were on the list of immortal animals along with the otter, fox, and skunk, and therefore Chinese people rarely kill them or eat them. This could be another reason why hedgehogs are able to thrive in Beijing as people are not quick to dispose of them.
So be on the lookout for these curious little animals as you may be likely to run into one late at night. But no need to fear these guys, they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.
If you have your own story about a hedgehog sighting, we’d love to hear it! Please post stories below.