The Godley Valley area of New Zealand’s South Island is not a place where you would expect to see hedgehogs running around with small GPS tracking in the form of backpacks affixed to them, but that is exactly what is happening as researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago seek to study the creatures’ behavior. They are particularly interested in their impact on native fauna as hedgehogs are a species introduced to the area rather than a native. Because of that, they have no natural predators on the island and their population is rapidly increasing. Conservationists are also concerned about their impact on native giant snails, weta, certain endemic insects, lizards and ground-nesting birds as hedgehogs happily munch on all of these.
Hedgehogs are smaller than porcupines and do not have poisonous spikes; they curl up into a ball when threatened. They are native to northern and western Europe and were introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century by Europeans as they settled the island. They are considered a serious pest in areas of Scotland and New Zealand because of their penchant for eating native wildlife and vegetation.
Due to the threat the hedgehog poses to native species, the University researchers decided to utilize GPS tracking to get an accurate picture of their habits and travel patterns. Twenty-eight hedgehogs were equipped with the GPS backpacks, giving data on their positions at any time and in any season. Data was collected every five minutes for five days. The units were designed to not interfere with the natural movements of the hedgehogs; they are lightweight and stay in place as the animal moves through brush and vegetation, and even as they defensively roll and nest. It was discovered that while they sometimes traveled as far as 1.5km in one direction, they also had favorite spots where they spent more time searching for food.
Hedgehogs are the smallest animals to be equipped with GPS devices and they have worked out well, supplying valuable information to researchers. Conservationists will be able to utilize the data as they seek to protect native vegetation and wildlife from these cute, but potentially threatening critters. By using GPS the guesswork and luck is taken out of the equation; the animals’ natural habits are able to be studied and analyzed. This would be very difficult to achieve using traditional research methods. It is a small investment that yields very accurate and important information.
Article Written by Nichole Decoust