An exploratory investigation of glucocorticoids, personality and survival rates in wild and rehabilitated hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in Denmark

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Background: The European population of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) is declining. It is therefore essential to optimise conservation initiatives such as the rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs. Wild animals placed in captivity may be prone to chronic stress, potentially causing negative health effects. Therefore, the effects of these rehabilitation efforts should consequently be evaluated. Furthermore, hand-raising orphaned hedgehogs is a laborious and costly task, and it is therefore relevant to document whether they have equal post release survival rates compared to their wild conspecifics. The objectives of this research were therefore to conduct an exploratory study of glucocorticoid levels in hedgehogs from different backgrounds and compare the post release survival of translocated, rehabilitated and wild, juvenile hedgehogs as well as the possible effect on survival of differences in shy or bold behaviour (personality) exhibited by individuals. Results: We measured glucocorticoid levels in 43 wild-caught (n = 18) and rehabilitated (n = 25) hedgehogs and compared the post release survival and spatial behaviour of 18 translocated juvenile hedgehogs (eight hand-raised and ten wild) until hibernation. The possible effect on survival of differences in shy or bold behaviour (personality) exhibited by 17 juvenile individuals (seven hand-raised and ten wild) was also examined. Rehabilitated individuals and females had higher levels of faecal corticosterone metabolites compared to wild individuals and males, respectively. Rehabilitated individuals showed higher levels of saliva corticosterone than wild. The personality tests labelled 13 individuals as shy and 11 as bold. Post release survival was 57% for rehabilitated and 50% for wild individuals. Neither background nor personality affected post release survival. Home range measures were 3.54 and 4.85 ha. Mean dispersal length from the release sites was 217 ± 100 m. Conclusion: The higher levels of corticosterone observed in rehabilitated compared to wild hedgehogs calls for consideration of the duration of admission to wildlife rehabilitation centres to reduce stress levels in the patients. Hand-raised juveniles appear to have the same prospects as wild, and personality does not seem to affect post release survival in hedgehogs, indicating that hand-raising of orphaned juvenile hedgehogs is a relevant contribution to the conservation of this species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number96
JournalBMC Ecology and Evolution
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Behaviour, Corticosterone, Cortisol, Stress, Wildlife conservation, Wildlife rehabilitation

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