Why Some States Won’t Let You Have a Pet Hedgehog

It has nothing to do with the quilly creatures’ unbearable cuteness.

Too cute.
National Journal
June 5, 2014, 1 a.m.

On pa­per, hedge­hogs sound like great pets.

The quilly an­im­als re­quire less main­ten­ance than cats and dogs. They’re not smelly. They’re hy­po­aller­gen­ic. And ob­ject­ively, they’re really, really cute.

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.

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