On paper, hedgehogs sound like great pets.
Yet African pygmy hedgehogs — the species most commonly sought-after by pet owners — are illegal to keep as pets in Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and the five boroughs of New York City. That’s because, while hedgehogs may look cuddly and unassuming indoors, the animals can wreak havoc on local ecosystems if they get out, experts say.
State fish and wildlife officials say the 17 different known species of hedgehog can disrupt native communities if they are released into the wild. A budding population of hedgehogs would compete for food and habitat with species naturally found in those areas. Other exotic pets, such as sugar gliders and Quaker parakeets, are banned in some states for the same reason.
Some hedgehog species can also carry foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious virus that affects cloven-hoofed animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The most devastating outbreak of the disease in the U.S. came in 1914, when more than 170,000 farm animals became infected. There hasn’t been an outbreak since 1929, and government officials want to keep it that way.
Hedgehogs can also shed salmonella bacteria (but so can domestic cats and dogs).
State conservation organizations regularly hold “amnesty” programs, during which people can relinquish their exotic pets, including hedgehogs, without incurring any penalties. Such events are designed to reduce the number of non-native species that enter the wild when people decide they can no longer care for their pets.
So if you live in New York City and desperately want an exotic pet, start thinking about ferrets. This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would consider reversing a 1999 ban on keeping the slinky creatures as pets.