What is safe to do in terms of helping wildlife, such as hedgehogs, during lockdown?
While humans are being urged to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it has been wildly reported that Britain’s wildlife is taking back the environment during lockdown. We’ve seen images of goats strolling through the streets of Llandudno, deer grazing in London parks, and birds returning to previously abandoned nesting sites.
But not every wild animal is thriving; some will still be struggling with injuries and illness at this time. If you come across an injured animal, such as a hedgehog, in your garden or on your daily walk, Up Gardener share their tips to help wildlife safely, during lockdown.
1. Determine if there’s a problem
If you find a wild animal that’s usually nocturnal, such as a hedgehog, out in the daytime, it’s likely that there’s sometime wrong. Check it for signs of physical injury, but bear in mind that some problems, such as dehydration, might not be visible.
2. Contain the animal, while you seek advice
Wearing thick gloves, pick the animal up carefully, trying to cause it as little additional stress as possible. If it is small, like a hedgehog, place it in a high-sided cardboard box, with a towel. Give it meaty cat or dog food, and water in a bowl. Contrary to traditional advice, don’t offer cow’s milk, as the high lactose content in this can be harmful, and even fatal, to hedgehogs.
3. Call your local wildlife hospital
This is an important step, as many wildlife hospitals are operating differently to normal during the lockdown, and you may not be able to just bring the animal in, as you usually would. Most animal hospitals are still manning phone lines, so they should be able to assist you, at least during the day. You can find your nearest animal hospital by searching online.
If you find a larger animal, such as a deer, fox or badger, outside of office hours, some hospitals have a specific night time emergency response team that you can call.
If instructed, take the animal to the hospital. Only do this if you are free from any symptoms of COVID-19 (a persistent cough, fever or anosmia). If you or any members of your household are displaying symptoms, you should not take the animal anywhere. Instead, try to find a neighbour or friend who can help, and leave the animal outside your home, for them to collect safely.
Upon arrival at the wildlife hospital, make sure to follow any safety procedures in place. This might, for example, involve taking the animal to the door of the centre in your box, removing all your own belongings, and leaving the animal on the doorstep. You can then ring the doorbell, and step back, allowing staff to retrieve their new patient.
5. Check on their progress
Many wildlife hospitals allow you to call and check on the progress of an animal that you’ve brought in. However, be mindful of the fact that rescue centres are likely to be operating with reduced staff numbers at the moment, so try not to take up too much of their time.
6. Make a donation
If you can, consider making a donation to your local wildlife hospital. Many of them are currently struggling with a reduction in funding, caused by shop closures, cancellation of fundraising events, and reduced footfall in their centres. This is something we should all consider.
Are animal hospitals currently open?
Depending on your area, most animal hospitals in the UK are currently open to deal with emergencies. This means they can provide urgent care and medication, for sick and injured animals. You will need to respect social distancing guidelines, as well as any other safety measures put in place by the hospital.
What can people do if they don’t have an animal hospital near them?
If you don’t have an animal hospital nearby, you can still call one, and speak to them for guidance. The hospital staff will ask you to describe the animal’s symptoms, and offer you advice on the best way to handle it. If the animal needs veterinary assistance, you might need to take them to your local vets instead.
Is it safe to handle/be close to animals, such as hedgehogs, at present?
It is possible for animals, such as dogs and cats, to carry the coronavirus on their fur – just like any other surface. However, humans do not generally touch or come into contact with wild animals, such as hedgehogs, so the risk of catching the virus from handling such an animal is very small.
You should always wear gloves when handling any wild animal, to protect yourself from bites and scratches, and this will further help to keep you safe from COVID-19. Follow usual good hygiene practices, and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling any wildlife.
Written in partnership with upgardener.co.uk.