Classifieds site Gumtree had at least 100 adverts for the sale of hedgehogs. Prices ranged from R1 000 to R5 000.

Cape Town - It is mostly active at night, foraging in the bushes for tiny insects and scampering away from predators.

While the spiny hedgehog is a reclusive critter, the animal is becoming a hugely popular pet in South Africa, with breeders banking as much as R5 000 for the exotic animal.

According to the National Council of SPCAs, it’s a “problematic” trend as people in the Western Cape – where the animal cannot be kept without a permit – are driving to Gauteng to skirt around red tape.

Breeders who spoke to the Cape Argus, on condition they remained anonymous, said it was not uncommon for Capetonians to travel to other provinces to buy a litter. One said buyers would often buy breeding pairs with the intention of giving the offspring to friends.

NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit manager Ainsley Hay said: “They are quite delicate animals but they have become this huge novelty now. We see it often – there are different trends and this one has just boomed.”

Classifieds site Gumtree had at least 100 adverts for the sale of hedgehogs on Monday. Prices ranged from R1 000 to R5 000.

But why the sudden interest in hedgehogs?

Studies have shown a link between an animal’s exposure on TV and its appeal to pet owners. In the 1980s, the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is said to have led to an increase in tortoise purchases.

On YouTube there are millions of search results for “hedgehogs”, many with millions of views. One video in particular, posted by Animal Planet – a popular channel here and the US – and titled “Kitten Meets Hedgehog”, is accompanied by a range of comments asking where hedgehogs could be bought.

It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in many US states, while most European countries are fairly lax about the trade of the animal. In the UK endangered wild hedgehogs cannot be kept as pets.

However, these restrictions have not stopped pet owners. According to the Humane Society of the United States, the multibillion-dollar trade in exotic animals worldwide is second only to drugs.

Hay said the NSPCA opposed the breeding and keeping of wild animals, adding that hedgehogs from other countries could bring diseases and parasites.

“It’s also just cruel, these animals were not meant to be kept in captivity.”

She said it was unethical for sites to allow the sale of wild animals, and called on them to crack down on these adverts.

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Cape Argus