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Most people know hedgehogs from youtube videos, children’s stories, and movies, but the history of this spiked little mammal is much more interesting than we might think. You can find hedgehogs in many countries worldwide, from Asia, Egypt, India, Europe, Africa, The UK, and America. I was interested in finding out whether hedgehogs are domesticated?
While many hedgehogs still live in the wild, the domestication of these tiny mammals dates back thousands of years. Archaeological evidence found in Egyptian, British, Asian, and African history show hedgehogs were domesticated, bred for food, and were a commodity in the Roman Empire due to their fur.
I have wanted to get a hedgehog ever since I saw sonic the hedgehog on games and TV shows. I wasn’t sure if they could be kept as pets in my state, as in some states like Washington DC, it is illegal to have them as pets. So I began to do more research and decided I would share what I found while investigating the domestication of hedgehogs.
Are Hedgehogs Domesticated?
Hedgehogs have been successfully domesticated for a few thousand years. There are 17 different species of hedgehog. The most common that are kept as pets are the African Pygmy hedgehog.
It’s easily identified with a pinkish belly and white fur, the European hedgehog with a darker belly and brown fur, and the long-eared Egyptian and long-eared Indian hedgehogs known for their Yoda-like long ears.
When Were Hedgehogs First Domesticated?
As far back as 6,000 years, evidence for the domestication of hedgehogs has been found. In Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, evidence was found of hedgehogs being bred for a number of reasons. Here are some of the earliest identified countries that have had a hand in domesticating the hedgehog.
The Domestication of Hedgehogs By Ancient Rome
When we think of Ancient Rome, Spartans and conquerors come to mind; the same can be said about taming animals. The sad part of the domestication history of the hedgehog is that they were used for their course fur and as food in Roman times. There are ancient recipes dating back to around 6000 ago that feature hedgehogs as the main ingredient.
The Romans also commercialized domesticating hedgehogs to use the fur on their face and belly to raise the nape of textiles like wool. It was so profitable that the Roman senate put laws into effect to capitalize on this practice.
The Domestication of Hedgehogs By Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians were fascinated by all kinds of animals, and the hedgehog was one such animal. They saw the hedgehog rolling into a ball to protect itself as a symbol of protection. Statues and drawings depicting these tiny mammals have been found in Egyptian tombs.
The other two reasons the Egyptians domesticated hedgehogs were food sources and sports. They tested their wit against these fast, tiny and nocturnal animals to see how well their hunting skills were. They were also seen as a good source of medicine, and the Egyptians would use their bile to combat baldness.
The Domestication of Hedgehogs By Africa
Not a lot is known about how long ago African people have domesticated the African pygmy hedgehog. Still, they did start to capture and sell this spiked animal in the 1980s to Americans looking for an exotic pet.
They bred and sold the hedgehogs until the restrictions were put in place where you needed permits to sell the African pygmy hedgehogs came into effect in the early parts of the 90s due to a disease outbreak.
They are still bred and still sold as pets to neighboring countries, but there might be some restrictions to prevent this in Africa in the near future.
The Domestication of Hedgehogs By Ancient Asia
The ancient Asians believed that hedgehogs parts had healing power; they believed different body parts would ‘cure’ things like leprosy, boils, baldness, colic, urinary stones, and that they would get improved night vision.
There have also been discoveries made in Mongolia, parts of China, and Yugoslavia of jewelry and terracotta statues depicting hedgehogs.
The theory is that these ancient cultures revered the hedgehogs because of their nocturnal, hibernating, and defensive nature. These cultures believed that hedgehogs were connected to them, so hedgehogs are often depicted as protective.
The Domestication of Hedgehogs By Britain
As I said earlier, hedgehogs were used in recipes dating almost 6000 years back, and that was the main reason hedgehogs were domesticated and bred in Britain a few centuries ago. They were considered a delicacy.
Today, there are strict laws and by-laws in place in this part of the world to protect hedgehogs and don’t become endangered.
How Did Modern Hedgehogs Become Domesticated?
The most popular hedgehog species to be domesticated, bred in captivity, and kept as pets is the African Pygmy Hedgehogs. They have become much more popular to have as pets. It might be because of their more gentle nature and because they don’t hibernate like their European cousin.
The other types of hedgehogs popular as pets are the European, long-eared Egyptian, and long-eared Indian hedgehogs. Even though hedgehogs have become popular as exotic pets, some areas in America have restrictions on having a pet hedgehog.
In the early 90s, the import of hedgehogs was at an all-time high, and it led to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in parts of the USA. They are still one of the most popular animals to have as pets to this day.
Most of the African pygmy hedgehogs that are kept as pets in the USA are bred in captivity in America and screened for diseases before they are sold as pets. In some counties and states, you need a permit to keep hedgehogs, and in others, it is illegal, and you could face serious fines.
The hedgehog is an amazing little mammal that has survived the worst humanity has thrown at it. Still, after all these years, they are beloved as pets today. Hedgehogs have been domesticated for over 6000 years and have been kept either as pets, food, or used in medicines.
There have been artifacts found in Mongolia and Yugoslavia that show how these prickly animals were revered for their protective abilities and depicted as protectors in drawings and statues found in ancient tombs.