Hugh Warwick: The Hedgehog's Dilemma

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Warwick, Hugh. The Hedgehog's Dilemma: A Tale of Obsession, Nostalgia, and the World's Most Charming Mammal (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008)

In The Hedgehog's Dilemma, British ecologist Hugh Warwick describes his field studies on the mortality rates of relocated hedgies, visits the Hedgehog Olympics, and even makes a trip to China to follow up on an undocumented hedgehog species. His observation that "[t]here is no other wild animal that can compare to the hedgehog--no other animal that allows us to get as close. Nose-to-nose with a hedgehog, you get a chance to look into its eyes and glimpse a spark of truly wild life," (pp. xv-xvi) may strike some as hyperbole, but--as someone who once shared my home with an African Pygmy hedgehog--I can attest to hedgehogs' quirky charm. Warwick, by the way, isn't a big fan of hedgehogs joining other wild animals in the "exotic pet" category, finding it "odd, repugnant even, to keep hedgehogs as pets." (p. 131) In fact, he notes that America's "hedgehog-nurturing zeal has erupted into perhaps the world's most counterintuitive pet-keeping craze:"

Who would have thought that a smelly, grumpy, solitary nocturnal and spiny animal would sweep a country into a frenzy of pet-hedgehog-keeping? (p. 166)

I could not see the attraction. Are they trying to create a new domesticated species or breed wild hedgehogs with accommodating personalities? I like my hedgehogs wild, grumpy and outdoors. (p. 189)

While I don't know that pet hedgies ever got to the level of "craze" or "frenzy," they are distinctive in the same sense as ferrets, salamanders, and tarantulas. Warwick bemoans the suburban encroachment on hedgies' habitat, so it's odd that he looks so unfavorably upon the kind of intimate interaction (sharing a household) most likely to lead to hedgehogophilia. Warwick's love for the hedgehogs is evident throughout the book, especially when he writes of "an appreciation for the hedgehog that goes way beyond the sentimental relationship that can infect our contact with the natural world:"

This depth of relationship convinces me that the hedgehog has much to tell us about the way we live within what is left of the natural environment. (p. 65)

He later observes that "We can love a hedgehog like no other animal. It is the first and probably only wild animal that we urbanites and suburbanites have a chance of getting really close to:"

...the hedgehog chooses to share the same space as us and if we are willing to change our point of view and get down on its level, we will be rewarded by the opening of a door into a deeper understanding of the natural world. Once the connection has been made, once we have had that chance to do the nose-to-nose thing and see the spark of wild in its eye, then we can follow it through into a new world view. (p. 268)

I doubt that reading The Hedgehog's Dilemma will create legions of hedgie-lovers out of cat or dog people, but it's a fun book for those of us already on good terms with the little critters. Check out his blog and this Daily Mail piece for more of Warwick's writing.


links:

Hedgehog Central
British Hedgehog Preservation Society
International Hedgehog Association
North American Hedgehog Association
Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox"

Interestingly, Warwick mentions Beatrix (The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle) Potter, but not Jan Brett, who wrote several books (The Mitten, The Hat, and Hedgie's Surprise) starring hedgehogs.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on April 29, 2010 10:06 PM.

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