Charming Animation Aims to Save British Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are Old World icons, with about 15 endearing species scattered across Europe, Africa and Asia. They're still plentiful in most of their native habitats — plus a few new ones, since the pet trade can make them an invasive species. But despite their global popularity, hedgehogs are struggling in Britain, of all places, where Beatrix Potter helped make them famous more than a century ago.

Some 30 million wild hedgehogs inhabited Britain in the 1950s, according to Wildlife Aid, but they have since fallen to about 1 million, a 96 percent decline. If things don't improve quickly, the group warns U.K. hedgehogs could face local extinction by 2025. Although the reasons for their plight aren't entirely clear, habitat loss has pushed many into urban areas, where they face an array of threats.

Tens of thousands of hedgehogs are killed every year by cars, according to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, while countless more suffer the effects of insecticides on their six-legged food sources. They can also become fatally trapped in aluminum cans and other food containers, a problem so serious that McDonald's U.K. introduced new, hedgehog-friendly McFlurry cups in 2006.

To shed a broader light on this hedgehog crisis, Wildlife Aid commissioned the captivating, intricate animation above. Titled "Saving Harry," it follows a wild hedgehog as a pair of magical paw prints leads him out of the city and back into the wild. There are hints of urban dangers along the way, like the sounds of honking cars and a discarded cat food can that Harry pauses to sniff. The paw prints manage to cajole Harry out of harm's way, though, eventually leading him to an ornate forest where he's welcomed by a hooting owl — and, more importantly, a doe-eyed female hedgehog.

While this animation focuses on a British issue, it also broaches a salient topic for wildlife worldwide. Habitat loss is "probably the greatest threat to the variety of life on this planet today," according to the World Wildlife Fund, driven mainly by deforestation for intensive agriculture, but also by climate change. From Indonesia's orangutans to Alaska's polar bears to Bolivia's blue-throated macaws, rare animals around the planet are losing vital territory at a dizzying pace. It would be nice if ghostly footprints could lead them all back to a pristine wilderness, but that only works as long as such a place still exists.

To learn more about Wildlife Aid, check out this video of their rescue efforts: