My Pygmy Hedgehog And I

“Oh you’re the photographer with the hedgehog! What’s that like?” I get this a lot. Not complaining, I adore talking about Bramble to anyone willing to listen, and I totally understand the intrigue. But I always try my best to give a well-rounded account of my experience. She is wonderful and loveable but there’s also a lot of negative aspects of keeping an African pygmy hedgehog as a pet. So if you’re thinking about it, here’s my best advice and list of pros and cons after 4½ years’ experience.

Pros

1. Temperament

African pygmy hedgehogs are, if socialised properly, very sweet and curious animals. She’ll happily snuggle into my or Nathaniel’s arms to sleep; or explore our home and annoint whenever she comes across something new. It’s a joy to watch her be a happy hedgehog. As long as she’s in a good mood (which is 95% of the time), Bramble’s muscles will be relaxed so her quills lay flat.

2. Independence

Relative to other household pets, pygmy hedgehogs do not need as much human contact. They don’t mind but also don’t need us. This independence comes with an important caveat: throughout her entire adolescence, I made sure she was playing with myself, Nathaniel or a friend (when we were away) every single day for at least 30 minutes. Without this socialisation stage, she wouldn’t tolerate us handling her as an adult now.

3. Food

Bramble is fully-grown and only weighs 370g so doesn’t eat much. The recommended food for pygmy hedgehogs is good quality chicken-based dried cat kibble that is high in protein and low in fat. Pro-tip: a recipe developed for indoor cats means their poop won’t smell as bad! Bramble only eats 5-10 pieces of Purina Go Cat a day and stops after she’s full… a lesson I’ve yet to learn. As a treat, we also give her freeze-dried (and occasionally live) mealworms.

4. Noise

As long as they’re not in pain or highly distressed, pygmy hedgehogs make minimal noise which makes them apartment-friendly. At night Bramble can run for 5 miles so it’s important to invest in a sturdy silent wheel. With the doors of the room closed, this won’t bother anyone.

5. Hygiene

Pygmy hedgehogs can be litter-trained. We keep a tray of cat litter beneath her wheel, away from her food/water and sleeping areas. Like cats, they keep themselves clean and do not smell at all. We have only ever bathed Bramble twice in 4½ years, and those were oatmeal baths to soothe her dry skin. Aside from that, shallow foot baths for poop-y paws will suffice.

Cons

1. Temperature

Native to Africa, pygmy hedgehogs don’t have enough body fat to hibernate through the European winter, and will die if they do. Therefore it’s crucial to keep Bramble’s cage at a minimum temperature of 23°C at all times. We keep an energy-efficient heater with a built-in thermostat directly underneath her cage.

2. Pain

Obviously hedgehogs’ quills are designed to hurt predators. If she’s in a bad mood, Bramble resembles a packed pin cushion with the sharp ends facing out. This usually only lasts for a minute when we first wake her up, but touching her during this time would be painful. When she meets someone new, she might also give their finger a bite. This isn’t an act of aggression, rather a test to see if this new thing is food, but her bite is strong enough to draw blood.

3. Indifference

Although Bramble is a very well socialised and happy hedgehog, I can’t claim that she has any emotional attachment to us. Even though we try our best to give her a full life, I describe the reciprocal as… tolerance. If you’re looking for an affectionate pet, choose a lap dog instead!

4. Nails

I know fellow pet owners of other animals will also empathise with this one. Pygmy hedgehogs need their nails trimmed roughly every two weeks. Oh how Bramble will squirm and fidget if it’s me… but Nathaniel is the ultimate Hedgehog Whisperer. So thankful that she’ll stay perfectly for him (evidence here).

5. Health

We recently had an awful experience with Bramble and, sadly, she had to have a part of her paw amputated. Luckily the only ‘exotic animal’ vet in London that takes private appointments is around an hour away (CJ Hall). I imagine it’d be a lot further for many hedgehog owners. Unfortunately pygmy hedgehogs are prone to cancer, and up to 10% develop Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome which sounds deceptively jolly but is an awful degenerative neurological disease. Before you buy one, make sure you have the financial and logistic means to care for your hedgehog responsibly. Also do your research to find a reputable breeder to minimise the risk of WHS.

I hope my honest advice has been helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any other questions about African pygmy hedgehogs. You can follow along with Bramble’s adventures over on Instagram.


My Favourite Podcasts

I know podcasts have been around for yonks, but 2017 was the year I became obsessed. As a self-employed photographer, I can easily (and often do) spend entire days by myself. Sometimes my boyfriend will come home from work and I’ll find myself tongue-tied trying to greet him, having not breathed a single word for nine hours. Listening to podcasts while I work somehow makes me feel less alone. I’ve made a list of 9 podcasts that have carried me through the year. As with anything in life, podcasters sometimes take a while to find their stride and rhythm, so I’ve included links to good episodes to start with.

1. The Memory Palace

Start with… The Glowing Orbs

Nate DiMeo has my heart. Nothing I write here could do justice to the beauty and power of his storytelling. I beg of you to click the link above to my favourite episode. It’s only 5 minutes and 48 seconds long but I promise that’s all it will take for him to steal your heart too.

2. Guys We Fucked

Start with… How Does Censorship Affect Feminism?

Its comedian hosts call it the “anti slut shaming” podcast. In earlier episodes, it was pure lighthearted fun as Krystyna and Corinne took turns to interview guys they’d had sexual encounters with, opening discussing issues that really shouldn’t be (yet still are) taboo. Right now with the momentum of #MeToo, it feels like we are on the brink of revolution, and these ladies are not afraid to tell it like it is.

3. S-Town

Start with… Chapter 1

Truth be told, the first time I listened to S-Town, it took me until the big plot twist (end of Chapter 2) to get fully immersed. Then all of a sudden I was hooked, and have since listened to the whole thing several times. This year I saw Brian Reed, the podcast’s host, give a talk at Theatre Royal. Such a brilliant role model for any aspiring writer.

4. Sleep With Me

Start with… any!

Both Nathaniel and myself have become huge fans of this podcast, and are in awe of its effectiveness. Usually when I can’t fall asleep, it’s because I’ve got far too many thoughts muddling my mind. All I have to do is concentrate on Dearest Scooter’s lilting voice and rambling topics, and I’m asleep within 15 minutes… every time.

5. Hashtag Authentic

Start with… Stopping the Glorification of ‘Busy’

Sara Tasker is my hero. She is creative, kind, smart, vulnerable and – I’m unashamedly embracing it – authentic. It’s a weird and wonderful world, this social media malarky. Even though I’ve been a part of it for over 6 years, everything is constantly evolving. Sara’s podcast is like a supportive hug for us freelance creatives. Every episode has me enthusiastically nodding along and inspires me to both challenge and forgive myself.

6. The Bright Sessions

Start with… Chapter 1

If you’re a fan of psychology and the superhero genre, definitely give this podcast a go. The story is told (rather cleverly) via recordings of therapy sessions and answering machines. I binged 30 episodes in one day.

7. This American Life

Start with… One Last Thing Before I Go

Just so you know, the episode I’ve linked above had me crying in the shower. Well, ugly-sobbing is more accurate. I love the way This American Life ties a few seemingly-random stories together with a clever common thread. The reporting is spot-on, succinct and unbelievably moving.

8. No Such Thing As A Fish

Start with… any!

I have definitely featured my fair share of intense podcasts so far. A lot of the time, I want to listen to something without bawling my eyes out or feeling like the world is a miserable place. Step in the QI podcast. Every week, each member of the team (researchers for the TV show) present their favourite interesting fact. I have learned hundreds of mind-blowing and hilarious things from these guys.

9. My Favorite Murder

Start with… Jews vs Catholics

I struggle to articulate why true crime fascinates me as much as it does… but this article makes some strong points. My Favorite Murder is the one podcast I’ll drop everything and play immediately as soon as a new episode is up. The hosts Karen and Georgia have the perfect chemistry. They’re witty, passionate and (most importantly) just so real. They tell true crime stories using humour as a coping mechanism for how awful some humans could be. Beyond the horrific murders, I love how they explore issues like criminal psychology, the judicial system and human rights. I’ll sign off this list with their signature adieu – stay sexy and don’t get murdered!


Postcards from Tuscany

London is predictably hectic but it’s nothing compared to my parents’ life in Beijing. So whenever we’re reunited, Nathaniel and I try to take them somewhere peaceful, green and slow. Back in 2015 we all spent a glorious week in Tuscany. I tried hard to minimise time spent on digital devices, even when it came to photography. As frustrating as it sometimes became, I lugged around and shot on an old-school SLR (my Contax 645) and rekindled my love for film.

And then… London life got in the way again. For two years these rolls of film sat in my fridge, half-forgotten, until my friend and fellow photographer Chrystal kindly offered to develop and scan them. I’m so happy with the results!

Every time I receive a set of scanned film, I’m reminded of the magic of the whole process. Nowadays I shoot on various digital devices (Canon 5Diii, a Sony a7rii and the Google Pixel) but it’s worthwhile to slow down and think through each click, rather than blinding shooting 10 in a row with a “I can fix this later” attitude. Quality over quantity, always.

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