The European hedgehog is a protected species in the Czech Republic and both a powerful form of pest control, as well at times, a domesticated animal. Unfortunately it is in the summer that a great number of the animals are run-over on local roads or suffer all kinds of injury. Just ask Zdena Dvorska, who has been running a shelter for hedgehogs for years. She told us how she the situation with hedgehogs these days, and described her work at her shelter in the village of Vseradice, near Prague:
"For me, hedgehog season begins in July and last until June of the next year. In May you see the first hedgehogs born: [those are the busiest periods, September they mate again]. Right now things are a bit quieter, at the same time there is no shortage of injuries. Many hedgehogs are squashed on the roads though some survive with lasting injuries. Lawn mowers. Some are hit by garden tools. Fire. When people bring them to me I try and save them but of course many die. Others stay with me the length of their lives, which, contrary to popular belief, are quite short, about four years. A long time ago, I did my own little survey asking drivers - I was a driver myself - why they didn't swerve out of the way, why they ran over them? Most told me 'hedgehogs have no business being on the roads'."
Zdena Dvorska's dedication to the little creatures began by chance, when she was in hospital in the winter of 1970: during a walk outside discovered an abandoned hedgehog pup in the snow, which she took to her room. Later, she founded a shelter in her home in Prague - housing up to sixty specimens - before moving outside the capital. Today, she takes care of hundreds of the creatures each year. Unfortunately, encroaching suburbia and city life have not helped many of the animals, Zdena Dvorska again:
"People have less and less sense for this kind of thing: perfectly trimmed gardens, no bushes or underbrush, and that drives the hedgehogs out. It happens that you see a hedgehog [in town] or even on Wenceslas Square! The situation with people and their attitudes towards animals is worse every year, and I don't think it will get better. People still bring me hedgehogs. During peak times, in the shelter there can be up to 170. There are different kinds: western and eastern types. The western are more relaxed: only one in a hundred is aggressive. The eastern are a lot more aggressive and pushy, but also tougher, rummaging around and feeding in -10 degrees. In the shelter, I keep them apart."
According to Zdena Dvorska, the "eastern" types are now predominant though she cares for many "western" ones. Many of the western types apparently were drowned in droves during the 2002 floods.