Mystery as exotic pest reportedly found in affluent Aussie suburb: 'What should we do?'

Sydney's Taronga Zoo has confirmed it hasn't taken in a pair of hedgehogs allegedly discovered in Mosman. So where are they, and did they ever exist?

Left - Hedgehogs on a lawn. Right - a map of Bay Street in Mosman. Inset -the original Facebook post.
A Facebook post claimed two hedgehogs were found on Bay Street in Mosman. Source: Getty/Facebook

On Sunday, a mysterious post appeared on the community page for the residents of one of Australia’s most affluent suburbs. It asked a very unlikely question.

“Has anyone lost a pair of hedgehogs?” a member of the Mosman group, on the Sydney Harbourside, wrote.

While native echidnas are often referred to as hedgehogs, it was clear from the picture the animals in the picture were not native. The man continued, saying he was “very confused” as he was “pretty sure they’re not found in Australia”.

“Are they illegally imported? What should we do?,” he asked his fellow locals.

The post about the invasive and prohibited species caused immediate alarm, attracting over 150 comments from people offering to help. Yahoo was contacted by several wildlife rescuers worried if the pair were to breed the tiny predators could threaten native birds and reptiles, or even spread disease. Other than humans, feral animals have directly caused more extinctions in Australia that any other factor.

Dozens of offers were made to retrieve them. Some suggested sending the pair to nearby Taronga Zoo.

That’s where the mystery runs cold. Taronga Zoo confirmed with Yahoo it never received them. The man who posted the image has not responded to requests for comment.

And the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is yet to provide a written statement. It remains unclear if the animals are still in the wild.

Related: Rapid spread of wallabies in New Zealand highlights major threat

An aerial view of Chinaman's Beach in Mosman.
Since the hedgehogs were reported on a Mosman social media group there have been no further reports of the animals. Source: Getty

It’s possible the hedgehog post was simply a hoax. But if it was, the joke isn't all that funny. Hedgehogs can carry diseases that can infect humans including Salmonella, Q fever and toxoplasmosis. The animals also pose a risk to Australia’s livestock industries as they can harbour foot and mouth disease – something the nation is currently free of.

Agriculture Victoria provides detailed information about the species’ risk on its website, with several pictures illustrating different varieties of captive-bred animals.

“African pygmy hedgehogs have the potential to fall victim to the illegal pet trade in Victoria where they are selectively bred and traded on the black market. The illegal keeping of African pygmy hedgehogs poses one of the greatest risks of the species establishing in Victoria,” it says.

A cow with foot and mouth disease in Indonesia.
Hedgehogs have the potential to spread foot and mouth disease and cost Australia's livestock industry millions. Source: Getty (File Image)

Hedgehogs have become established in Aotearoa New Zealand where they occupy grasslands, riverbeds and forest habitat of up to 2,000 metres above sea level.

The country’s Department of Conservation told Yahoo News the species has a “major impact” on endangered wildlife and they are accelerating the decline of native wading birds, lizards and invertebrates.

“Hedgehogs are mainly insectivorous however they will eat almost any animal substance and some plant material. They find much of their prey by smell,” a spokesperson said.

“Analysis of hedgehog gut contents and a growing catalogue of camera footage provides evidence hedgehogs hoover up countless endemic birds’ eggs and chicks, lizards, and invertebrates.”

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