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Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Hedgehog foster parents needed until spring 2011
Baby hedgehogs
These baby hedgehogs will have to be looked after until the spring

A hedgehog hospital is looking for volunteers to rear hoglets until they are ready to be released in the spring.

The rescue centre at Shepreth Wildlife Park in Cambridgeshire is currently home to 22 babies that are too young and weak to survive by themselves.

Rebecca Willers, the park's animal manager, said: "It's pretty straightforward once they've had any medication they might need.

"But this is long-term," she added. "These will need care until March."

She said: "I would advocate that you don't offer to hand-rear these guys with a view to having them as a pet.

"The whole point of our hedgehog rehabilitation programme is to get them released back into the wild."

'Wendy house'

The hoglet foster parents are needed because the park is running out of room to house the many young hedgehogs being brought in to the centre.

The hospital is a makeshift hut which Rebecca described as "a Wendy house". The hedgehogs' beds are plastic boxes, and the area is kept at a constant temperature to ensure the animals are warm enough.

Each hoglet is individually monitored to check its health and its weight.

Baby hedgehog
Some of the hoglets weigh as little as 40g when brought to the park

Rebecca said that the Shepreth hedgehog hospital is the only facility of its type in the area, and although they would like to expand and improve it, the park has not been able to attract enough visitors to raise the capital.

Meanwhile, they are overrun with hoglets that need to be hand-reared.

"The problem is a result of the later, warmer autumns," Rebecca explained.

"Hedgehogs are having second litters so recently we've seen some come to us at just a few days' old, weighing a mere 40g."

Hoglets are normally born in June or July giving them the warm summer months to reach their optimum weight of around 600g.

"The second litters born in October or later don't have the foraging capabilities to survive, and they can't hibernate once the frosty weather begins, so they don't stand a chance in the wild," said Rebecca.

"We have so many because they're being found in gardens. People bring them to us because they realise that the hoglets are too small and they shouldn't be around at this time of year."

'Worms, beetles and slugs'

You can find out more about the hedgehog rehabilitation programme on the Shepreth Wildlife Park website.

In the meantime, the park is making sure that the hoglets are healthy enough to be fostered until it is time for them to be released in the spring of 2011.

"It's just a case of cleaning them every day, feeding them, giving them access to water and keeping them at a constant temperature of between 15C and 18C," explained Rebecca.

"Cat or dog food is fine for them, but it must be meat-based as hedgehogs would not naturally find fish in the wild.

"And if you can find any, they like worms, beetles and slugs, because that's their main diet.

"But if you're too squeamish for that, you can buy insectivore mix which is what we add to their diet here."

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