NAIROBI PARK DIARY

A spikey friend

Hedgehogs are easily recognised by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin

In Summary

• There are 17 species of hedgehog in the world, and four species are found in Africa

Hedgehog near no5
Hedgehog near no5
Image: GARETH JONES

Some time ago, as the sun began to set, I drove towards the Langata gate. Suddenly, something small moved in the middle of the road. I stopped and saw a small prickly animal trying to cross the road.

Wow! It was a hedgehog. It briefly curled itself into a protective huddle of a ball, with the prickly spikes flared up, but then decided to rather try and find cover and headed for some thick grass.

Hedgehogs are easily recognised by their spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. Their spines or quills are not poisonous or barbed, and can number as many as 6,000. Unlike the quills of a porcupine, hedgehogs’ cannot easily be removed from them.

It is noted that there are 17 species of hedgehog in the world, and four species are found in Africa. The species found in Kenya is the four-toed hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) or African pygmy hedgehog.

They are tiny, just weighing up to 600g and about 20cm in length, also only living about four years in the wild. This was the first time I had seen one in the Nairobi National Park. They are nocturnal creatures with an omnivore diet, consisting of insects, spiders and even scorpions, plus various plants and berries.

Since this sighting, people have told me they have been seen them at other Nairobi locations like Langata and public gardens. They can eat one-third of their body weight in one night. Favourite foods are insects, earthworms, snails and slugs, making them welcome guests in many Nairobi gardens.

So next time you visit the park, be on the lookout for unusual sightings. The Nairobi National Park has many hidden creations, and can be very rewarding for people who are patient and considerate.