Trade in hedgehogs (Mammalia: Erinaceidae) in Morocco, with an overview of their trade for medicinal purposes throughout Africa and Eurasia



Vincent Nijman 1 & Daniel Bergin 2



1,2 Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford OX1 0BP, UK

1 (corresponding author), 2






Editor: Sanjay Molur, ZOO/WILD, Coimbatore, India. Date of publication: 26 April 2015 (online & print)



Manuscript details: Ms # o4271 | Received 01 January 2015 | Final received 19 March 2015 | Finally accepted 31 March 2015



Citation: Nijman, V. & D. Bergin (2015). Trade in hedgehogs (Mammalia: Erinaceidae) in Morocco, with an overview of their trade for medicinal purposes throughout Africa and Eurasia. Journal of Threatened Taxa 7(5): 71317137;



Copyright: © Nijman & Bergin 2015. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. JoTT allows unrestricted use of this article in any medium, reproduction and distribution by providing adequate credit to the authors and the source of publication.



Funding: No specific funding was received for this study.



Competing Interest: The authors declare no competing interests.



Author Details: Vincent Nijman is trained as a biologist and currently holds a professorial chair in Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. He has researched the trade in a range of taxa, mostly in Asia, and he has acted as a consultant to international conservation NGOs. Prior to studying the wildlife trade in Morocco as part of his MSc programme at Oxford Brookes University, Daniel Bergin worked as a qualified tour guide in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Recently he joined TRAFFIC researching the cross-border wildlife trade between Indonesia and Malaysia.



Author Contribution: The study was initiated by VN and DB; DB conducted the market surveys; VN conducted the global analysis; VN and DB wrote the paper. 



Acknowledgements: We thank two reviewers for constructive comments and suggestions for improvement.






Abstract: Hedgehogs are traded locally and often in relatively small num­­bers throughout Eurasia and Africa. We here report on the trade in North African Hedgehog Atelerix algirus and to a smaller extent possibly the Desert Hedgehog Paraechinus aethiopicus in Morocco, and provide an overview of the global trade in hedgehogs for medicinal purposes. In 2013 and 2014 we surveyed 20 Moroccan cities for a total of 48 times. We recorded 114 hedgehogs (32 alive and 82 skins) for sale in 25 shops in 10 cities, with the largest numbers recorded in Casablanca and Marrakesh. All live hedgehogs were identified as North African Hedgehog but skins could additionally have been of the Desert Hedgehog. Shops often displayed only single hedgehog skins, but occasionally up to 48 skins, and live individuals were mostly traded singly or in pairs. Over 80% of the shops selling hedgehogs were herbalists, selling herbs, spices, oils and animal parts, and both skins and live hedgehogs were intended to supply the demand for traditional (‘folk’) medicine. At a global scale we found an additional 34 reports of trade in 12 or possibly 13 species of hedgehogs from 23 countries; five studies involving three species in China, South Africa and Benin, included data on the frequency and abundance of hedgehogs in trade, whereas the other studies were qualitative in nature. Market data have limited value in gauging the off-take of hedgehogs from the wild to supply the traditional medicine trade, but we nevertheless urge the continuation of monitoring the trade in hedgehogs in Morocco and indeed elsewhere to ensure it does not become a threat to their survival in the foreseeable future.



Keywords: Conservation, ethno-medicine, folk medicine, northern Africa, wildlife trade.







Hedgehogs (Order Erinaceomorpha) are a group of 16 species distributed throughout Eurasia and Africa and are characterised by their spines and nocturnal activity patterns (Nowak 1999). Four species are endemic to Africa, 10 to Eurasia and two are shared between the two landmasses. At a global level, hedgehogs do not face large amounts of threats, and no species is considered globally threatened (Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) or even Near-Threatened according to IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. At the local level some species are exploited for their meat and are used in traditional medicine (some species are bred in captivity and traded as pets, but since this has a very limited effect on wild populations the pet trade is not considered here). Trade in different species for food and medicine has been recorded in Europe and the Near East (Ezer & Arısan 2006; Amori et al. 2008a; Quave & Pieroni 2013), in southern (Molur et al. 2005) and eastern Asia (Li & Wang 1999; Smith et al. 2008; Stubbe et al. 2008), as well as throughout sub-Saharan Africa (Asibey 1974; Carpaneto & Fusari 2000; Ziegler et al. 2002; Whiting et al. 2013), but thus far a comprehensive overview of their trade is lacking. Here we report on the trade in and use of hedgehogs in Morocco based on fieldwork conducted in 2013 and 2014 and we provide a global overview of the trade in hedgehogs based on an extensive literature search.

Morocco is home to two species of hedgehog, the North African Hedgehog Atelerix algirus, occurring in the northern half of the country, and the Desert Hedgehog Paraechinus aethiopicus, occurring in the south. The North African Hedgehog range includes mainly the Mediterranean Coastal Biotic Zone and the desert Hedgehog’s mainly in the Sahara Arid Biotic Zone, with both species living sympatrically in the narrow strip where both zones meet (Happold 2013).

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorises the North African Hedgehog as Least Concern, largely because of its wide distribution and lack of evidence of population declines (Amori et al. 2008b). Likewise, the Desert Hedgehog is listed as Least Concern, because of its wide distribution and presumed large population (Hutterer 2008). While there appear to be few threats to the survival of the Desert Hedgehog, Amori et al. (2008b) list a series of threats for the North African Hedgehog, including an increase in the numbers of roads (leading to roadkill) and habitat loss, as well as individuals taken from the wild to supply the demand for pets, food and medical purposes and to be used in local witchcraft. They concluded that “the status of this species should be monitored and more data gathered; if there is evidence of declines in population or range in the future, a reassessment will be necessary and uplisting [e.g., to Near Threatened or Vulnerable] may be warranted”.

The aim of our study was to collect both quantitative and qualitative data on the exploitation and use of hedgehogs throughout Morocco to increase knowledge and awareness of the trade in these species and to advocate for better regulation of this trade. Morocco is an important country with regard to wildlife trade, both domestically and internationally as a gateway to Europe, yet the monitoring of wildlife for sale in its open markets has been done only infrequently (van Lavieren 2008; Martin & Perry-Martin 2012; Bergin & Nijman 2014; Nijman et al. 2015).





Material and Methods



Moroccan market surveys

From April–July 2013, April–May 2014 and December 2014 the second author surveyed the markets in 20 cities throughout Morocco. All the cities are within the geographic range of the North African Hedgehog, and the southernmost ones (Agadir, Taroudant and possibly Marrakesh) also in that of the Desert Hedgehog’s range. Medinas—distinct, typically walled, city sections in which markets are often found, also known as Old Towns—were surveyed exhaustively for wildlife and markets outside the medinas were visited when learned about. When possible, both daytime and evening surveys were conducted on the same day in order to minimize the chances of stalls or shops being overlooked (Bergin & Nijman 2014). Casual conversations were held with traders about wildlife trade in general and the trade in hedgehogs in particular but we did not systematically interview traders. Eleven markets were visited only once, but others were surveyed up to six times over all three survey-periods. The total survey effort was 48 visits.



Contemporary use of hedgehogs in a global context

We searched Google Scholar and the Web of Science for articles or reports including information on the use of hedgehogs for food (‘bushmeat’) or as traditional medicine. Key words were hedgehog* AND medicine, and hedgehog* AND bushmeat, as well as each genus (Erinaceus, Hemiechinus, Paraechinus, Mesechinus, Atelerix) in combination with medicine or bushmeat. Only studies that were specific in the location (at least at the country level) were included (thus excluding articles that merely stated that “hedgehogs are traded as bushmeat in Africa”). Hedgehogs occur largely allopatrically. When a study did not specify what species of hedgehog was traded this was inferred from the locality (thus in South Africa only the South African Hedgehog occurs); if that was not possible, the study was excluded. We took care to check when hedgehogs were mentioned, but no species was specified, the authors did indeed refer to hedgehogs and not to porcupines. Finally, we were interested in the contemporary exploitation and use of hedgehogs and historic accounts of their use (e.g., Westermarck 1926; Gunda 1962; Lev 2003) were less of relevance. Thus only studies for which the data was collected after 1995 were included. A study was deemed quantitative if survey effort and/or numbers of hedgehogs or their parts were specified otherwise it was considered qualitative.








Trade in Morocco

No hedgehogs were observed in trade in the cities of Sale or Tetouan (both surveyed twice), Asilah, Beninsar, Chefchaouen, El Jadida, Essaouira, Fnideq, Kenitra or Taza (all surveyed once). We recorded 114 hedgehogs for sale in 25 shops in 10 cities, i.e., 32 alive and 82 skins (Table 1). Live individuals were all identified as North African Hedgehog (Image 1) and while it is most likely that the majority of skins were also of this species, potentially they could have been Desert Hedgehog’s (when only the back of the skin is present identifying hedgehogs to the species level becomes difficult).






Casablanca clearly stands out as a significant market, with on average some 20 hedgehogs observed during each of the three surveys. Marrakesh, surveyed five times, had hedgehogs for sale during each survey, with an average of some four individuals per survey. Other markets typically had smaller numbers for sale and hedgehogs were not observed during each and every survey. In Rabat and Oujdaabout a quarter of the shops selling wildlife had hedgehogs for sale (i.e., 3 out of 12 in Rabat and 2 out of 9 in Rabat), whereas this was about one in 10 in Fez (4/27), Casablanca (4/31) and Marrakesh (5/50).






Two-thirds of the shops offered single hedgehog skins at a time, but we observed larger numbers on three occasions (8 skins in April 2014 in Marrakesh; 10 skins in June 2013 and 28 skins in April 2014, both in Casablanca) (Fig. 1). The trade in live hedgehogs was less clustered. Half of the shops offered single individuals for sale and the other half two and up to six hedgehogs.

In markets where at least 10 hedgehogs were observed, the proportion of live trade ranged from around 20% in Casablanca and Marrakesh to almost 50% in Rabat. Twenty-one shops were classified as herbalists, i.e., shops containing herbs, spices and oils and frequently animal parts used as decoration or for sale, two in Oudja and Safi as contemporary medicine shops, one hedgehog in Rabat was for sale for food in a vegetable stall, and one in Tangier as a petshop (Image 2). This then suggests that the main purpose of the trade in hedgehogs is to supply the demand for traditional (‘folk’) medicine, and the vendors indeed backed up this assertion. There was no indication that any of the hedgehogs were imported from other countries and the trade appears to be fully domestic.



Global assessment of hedgehogs in trade

We located 34 contemporary studies on the medical use of or trade in 12 or possibly 13 species of hedgehogs from 23 countries (Table 2). No information on the medical use or trade in Somali Hedgehog Atelerix sclateri or Madras Hedgehog Paraechinus nudiventris, and possibly Brandt’s Hedgehog P. hypomelas, was found. Six studies (including ours) were quantitative in nature, reporting on the frequency and abundance of hedgehogs, the others were all qualitative in nature. While most reports referred to the trade in hedgehogs specifically for (traditional) medicinal purposes, only six studies mentioned their trade for food.








Our surveys show that hedgehogs—primarily the North African Hedgehog but also possibly to a lesser degree the Desert Hedgehog—are traded openly throughout Morocco, with both live individuals and skins present in half of the markets surveyed. Many traders offered smaller numbers at any given time, but some dealt with greater numbers. More than half the hedgehogs we observed were in the cities of Casablanca and Marrakesh and indeed these two cities stand out as important centres for the wildlife trade in Morocco (van Lavieren 2008; Martin & Perry-Martin 2012; Bergin & Nijman 2014; Nijman et al. 2015).

Hedgehogs in Morocco are traded largely to supply the demand for traditional medicine, as they indeed are in other parts of the Mediterranean. Hedgehogs are used as a cure for a variety of illnesses including tuberculosis, haemorrhoids and scrofula (lymphadenopathy of the neck) in Turkey (Sezik et al. 2001; Ezer & Arısan 2006), low sex drive or impotence, fever and malaria in the Levant (Lev 2003), and vaginal complaints by northeastern Italians (Quave & Pieroni 2013). For Morocco the most detailed accounts for the various uses of hedgehogs are given by Westermarck (1926) and Fogg (1941): Inhaling the smoke of a hedgehog skin or its bristles when burned is a remedy for fever, male impotence, and urinary illnesses, and consuming a hedgehog penis, boiled in oil or butter, can cure male impotence. The blood is a cure for ringworm, warts and heals the cracked skin of feet. Finally, the boiled flesh of a hedgehog is eaten as a remedy for witchcraft, whereas the bristles can be worn as an amulet against the evil eye.





Currently, hedgehogs are not protected under Moroccan law and the trade as observed in the various markets does not appear to violate any regulations (with respect to protected species, law enforcement in the wildlife markets of Morocco is limited and numerous protected species are openly offered for sale: van Lavieren 2008; Nijman et al. 2015). With few quantitative data on population sizes it is difficult to make any firm statements on the potential effects harvesting hedgehogs has on population numbers. Even less can be concluded on the effects of trade in various other species of hedgehogs. Only for three species (Chinese Hedgehog Erinaceus amurensis, Southern African Hedgehog A. frontalis, and White-bellied Hedgehog A. albiventris) from three countries (China, South Africa and Benin) did we find quantitative data on their trade. As with the data we collected in Morocco for none of these was it possible to establish a firm link between trade, harvest levels, and the impact on local populations. While market data appear to have limited value in gauging the off-take of hedgehogs from the wild to supply the traditional medicine trade, it may nevertheless be worthwhile to continue to monitor the trade in hedgehogs in Morocco and indeed elsewhere as to ensure that this does not threaten the survival of these species.







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