London: Hedgehogs in New Zealand are to be culled after wildlife charities said the creatures could not be repatriated to boost dwindling numbers in the UK.

The small mammals, which were imported to New Zealand from Britain in the 1860s, have so few predators in the country that they have thrived and now prey on native lizards, insects and birds’ eggs.

But despite being classed as “vulnerable to extinction” in Britain and calls by some animal lovers for the government to repatriate them, experts have said they cannot be taken to the UK.

A hedgehog baby strolls on a street in Frankfurt, Germany.Credit:AP

The RSPCA and British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) back the cull plans, claiming that “parachuting” the animals would only result in more hedgehog deaths.

The New Zealand government is currently running an ambitious campaign to eradicate all introduced predators by 2050, using a mixture of trapping, hunting, and poison. Hedgehogs were first brought to New Zealand by acclimatisation societies to remind settlers of their homeland, but were later introduced in greater numbers to control garden pests such as slugs and snails.

Last year, hedgehogs were added to the British red list as a species vulnerable to extinction, with experts warning the UK population was down 50 per cent in rural areas since 2000.

Jack Frost, a rare albino Hedgehog that has been rescued by Prickly Pigs Hedgehog Rescue, England. Only one in 100,000 hedgehogs are born albino – with no melanin pigment in their skin, eyes or spines. Credit:AP

According to a 2018 report by BHPS and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, “hedgehogs are disappearing from our countryside thanks to the carving up of the natural landscape, car accidents and predators, such as foxes, taking advantage of these factors”.

BHPS spokesman Hugh Warwick said: “If we brought [the New Zealand hedgehogs] here, the same problems would still be in place: fragmentation of habitat, loss of food, a decline in reptiles, amphibians and bats. How would we even get the hedgehogs over here? Would we fly them? The amount of stress for them would be staggering.”

RSPCA head of wildlife Adam Grogan agreed, saying it would be better to address the reasons for the British animals’ decline.

“Many would die on the journey and when they settled in, so there’s no point parachuting in hedgehogs.”

The Telegraph, London

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