Wednesday 29 January 2020

Hedgehogs in the hand, while swallows fly in

Prickly character: A hedgehog café has opened in Tokyo, where visitors can pet the creatures, or even cuddle them
Prickly character: A hedgehog café has opened in Tokyo, where visitors can pet the creatures, or even cuddle them

Joe Kennedy

More than a year ago when I first learned of a cat café in Madrid, it set me ruminating about moggies I had known.

I had written often about cats, especially one called Pangur Rua, when I lived in Co Meath. It thought it was a dog, and used go hunting through the fields with a springer spaniel bitch.

There was also the famous Lionel who used pat down cushions before sitting on one and liked smoked salmon at the table.

The Madrid café, where you could stroke friendly, furry creatures as you sipped your coffee, had been inspired by a similar establishment in Tokyo. The Japanese are fond of small creatures and, sure enough, the cats were followed by rabbits and, in recent times, by owls, blinking from their perches.

I have no information as to how those haunts of animals/birds are doing and, although I have been wondering how soon it will be before such an enterprise surfaces here, I have no news either.

Now hedgehogs, those wonderful little wild creatures, are the latest fad on Japan's pet café scene. I have looked at pictures of their antics in a place called 'Harry' (a play on the animal's name in Japanese) in Tokyo's Roppongi district, where 20 or more of them scramble about or snooze in hutches. However, they are not confined and if you pay 1,000 yen (about ¤10) on weekdays (more on weekends) you can play with or cuddle them as if they were puppies or kittens.

I learn that hedgehogs are popular pets in Japan, although not native fauna. Mizuki Murata, who also works in a rabbit café, said last week that people were queuing up to look at them. The café staff wanted the public to see how charming they were and to give the lie to the impression that they were difficult to handle. They were fascinating and it was interesting to watch their faces as they moved about, she said.

This is another novelty for Tokyo, of course, at least until the next pet fad comes along. As the animals are imported, it is as if they were in a mini-zoo but the day may not be too far off here - where hedgehogs can still roam freely - when, because of a catastrophic drop in numbers, zoos or cafés may be the only places to see them.

Readers text and write, especially last week from Louth, where the first swallows of the season have been seen at Ballymascanlon. So far north makes a change from south Kerry and west Cork, where last April's first sightings were reported here.

A letter from MS in Cork on the continuing saga of Peter the Fox suggests another source of the Hudson title, Adventures Among Birds as being A comment on the cover flight illustration of a "dusk-hued sky" envies the birds their "freedom and fellowship; their survival depends on it."

A heartfelt plea arrived from reader Mary Gallagher of Rossinver, Co Leitrim, who seeks help in dealing with "a horrible insect", a worm-like slug that curls into a hard ball when touched. Such insects come in thousands, she writes, to climb walls and get under doors. Now her grand-daughter won't visit because of them. That's serious. A Department of Agriculture source has advised me the reader should contact her local National Parks and Wildlife Service who should be able to help with Mary's "plague" of creepie-crawlies.

Sunday Independent

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