• Sussex wildlife rescue – why Disney got it wrong (part 1).

    Aug 14th

    This is what I felt like at 9am on the third day of helping at the wildlife rescue centre:



    I hope you didn’t watch this film expecting a narrative arc but it pretty much summed up my tiredness at 9am on thursday morning after having been up till 2:30 am with Trevor the previous night releasing a badger (that had been hit by a car) back into the wild. Needless to say by 9am Trevor had already been in work sometime, bright as a …what are those things you use to do up shirts?…banana.

    But isn’t the hedgehog damned cute?


    One thing I’ve learned at the WRAS centre is that it is important not to be carried away by sweetness. Cuteness is nature’s way of marketing animals to us.  Reality is something different. Squirrels, as you know, are rats with good PR. Small fluffy white dogs are a Darwinian ploy to ensure survival of the species via celebrity handbags

    The rather obvious point I’m trying to make  is that hedgehogs, like all animals, need to be considered on their own terms.

    It wasn’t particularly cute, for example , to see this hedgehog (below) come in to the cenre after being attacked by a dog (Trevor expertly cleaned the wounds, gave it antibiotics, pain killer and then a warm place to sleep and recover with ample food)

    Trevor examining the gaping wound from a dog attack on a small hedgehog.

    And it wasn’t particularly cute either when I came in on my third day to find that a little hedgehog that I’d been getting particularly fond of (in other words I had held it, tried to stroke it – not easy – and sort of called it a name ‘Mr Hedgehog’) had died during the nightof unknown causes (it had been doing fine the night before and needless to say WRAS had given it all due care)

    ‘But it’s so cute!’ was my response when I lifted up its lifeless body.

    It occurred to me this was not the appropriate response.  Especially not as I was near the six year old female volunteer at the time that was calmly helping to clean out the cage of the large crow that I had failed to handle the previous day.

    But my reaction is worth thinking about. Many of us, myself included (obviously), suffer from what I think of as a Disney Divide: the divide between harsh reality and cute fantasy.

    This divide was instilled in us as we watched Bambi as children in front of the TV whilst our mothers fed us Venison burgers (actually I was never fed venison burgers, that makes me more middle class than I was, but you get my drift). The same divide is present in our language too: cows are animals, steak is food. Pigs are cute, pork is tasty. The two items aren’t the same….and yet they are, divided only by out-of-sight abattoirs and neat supermarket packaging. By the time we are old enough to ask ‘Mummy, is pork the same as pig?’ it is too late,  we have already acquired a taste for meat just like we have acquired a taste for electronic gifts at christmas even though we now know father christmas does not exist at all.

    It’s strangely horrible to see a hedgehog die. To hold it in your hands, lifeless, but still warm. It is death in miniature. But the problem is, death can never be small, and it can’t be contained, in a coffin or otherwise. Death is here among us on a daily basis, constantly, on the sunny days and on the rainy days and, and nowhere is that more clearly so than at a small centre in East Sussex where the cutest of creatures can die on you without warning. I suspect there is no Disney Divide anywhere, but there is certainly no Disney Divide here.

    But nothing bought this to my attention more than when we got a call to say that a young deer (a bambi no less) had been hurt not far away near Heathfield. I couldn’t help but visualise it: big black eyes, pointy ears, chocolate markings, lying helpless on the floor, probably surrounded by concerned butterflies. The weather that day was perfect, East Sussex was ready to be painted straight onto a tacky tourist mug… or perhaps the celluloid of a hand made animation film – glistening green woods and hills, blue skies.

    Trevor was alert and suprisingly rushed. He wanted to get there quick. This made me anxious, atlhough he explained to me that the deer had been attacked by a dog and most dog attacks were fairly treatable.

    (to be continued tomorrow…sleep now)..

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