Austria, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, was always destined to carry some dodgy traffic once Schengen kicked in. Most passes through on the superb A roads, through tunnels or over high Alpine passes without incident, but just occasionally a truck comes to grief revealing an illegal cargo. So it was last week, when a vehicle carrying some 2,000 small animals overturned. Most of the cargo obediently permitted themselves to be recaptured by the Animal Welfare (well, this was Austria). The owner optimistically sent a replacement vehicle. The Authorities of course declined; the cargo would be detained whilst procedural irregularities were investigated. At the owners' expense. The irony in all this is that some 80% of the cargo was live-food for pet snakes and the like - small rodents, which the owners were now having to pay to be fed and cared for. The other 20% of the cargo was the exotic pets themselves; snakes, Armadillos and, um, Egyptian Hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs? Since when did hedgehogs become pets? What was the attraction? I sought out an online guide to hedgehog-keeping. It consisted of page after page of advice aimed at preventing the creatures from killing or seriously injuring themselves. First, they need lots of room. "Without room, a hedgehog will show signs of depression, such as
excessive sleeping, refusal to eat, repetitious behaviour, and
Due to their small size obesity is a very dangerous problem and
hedgehogs require a fair amount of exercise to avoid liver problems due
to excess weight." Uh OK a big wire cage then "Cages with wired floors are dangerous for hedgehogs because they can
easily slip and get a limb caught in the wire. Multi-level ferret or
rabbit cages can allow a hedgehog more room to explore without taking up
extra floorspace, but when using multiple levels, keep in mind that a
hedgehog has poor eyesight, can climb easily, but has difficulty
descending and often does not seem to understand heights" Hmm a big cage with a safety rubber floor, then. "A wheel is necessary to provide hedgehogs with exercise. When choosing a wheel, it must have a solid floor. If an
open-wire wheel is used, the hedgehog will continually fall between the
bars and possibly break a leg. Wheels with crossbars can also cause
facial injuries as hedgehogs have been known to look sideways out of the
wheel while running." The list goes on. They are liable to amputate their own limbs with their bedding, their genitalia may get blocked with cage-dust, they are (unsurprisingly) prone to many diseases, including Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome and commonly react to stress with vomiting and green faeces.
And then the simile struck me. Hedgehogs are the Tory Party of the pet world - intent on self-destruction, blind, incapable, liable to unintentional self-injury and deliberate self-mutilation. When threatened all they can do is roll up in a prickly ball. Suddenly gay weddings, bloody windmills, state snooping, Europhilia and all the other rubbish came into perspective; it was all Hedgehog behaviour. The party has grown into an endangered creature incapable of flourishing, subject to Wobbly Tory Syndrome and liable to react to stress with vomiting and green faeces.