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Experiences with keeping and breeding the Small Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrec (Echinops telfairi)

Deutsche Version Deutsche Version

Online publishing with kind permission of the author. Duplication after further discussion with me (David G. Kupitz) permitted if the text remains unchanged.

byDirk N. Gerrits, Die Breite 31, D-48529 Nordhorn, Germany
 Ph: +49 5921 302191

The animals are housed in cages of plastified plywood measuring 60x60x60 cm. They have a glass front and a removable stainless steel bottom which makes them easy to clean. Ventilation is provided by a meshwire (2 cm) opening at the top of the cage measuring 15x60 cm. The cages contain a large stone, a few branches, two vertically placed strips of meshwire for climbing and a (disposable) cardboard nesting-box. Continuous heating is provided by a 60 Watt Elstein lamp, heating the stone to appr. 35 °C. The coldest part of the cage is appr. 20 °C. The bedding consists of dustfree woodgrains.

The animals are almost completely nocturnal. During the day they occasionally come out to warm themselves under the lamp. They are social animals and always sleep together in one nesting-box. Adult males can be very aggressive towards each other but one male can be kept together with more than one female without problems. When handled regularly, most animals become very tame. Young animals sink their teeth into everything testing it for edibility, but I have never been bitten by an adult animal.
When irritated, frightened or severely disturbed, the animals make a hissing sound, while pulling spines over their head; occasionally they curl up like a hedgehog.
Small Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrecs are very good climbers and when provided with some branches or meshwire they will do this very often. They absolutely prefer meshwire over branches. When placed in new surroundings and following cleaning of the cages and its contents, animals of both sexes almost invariably start scentmarking. They produce saliva on the substrate which is then smeared with their forepaws over the head and the sides of the body.

The animals receive a basic diet of dry and canned catfood (Hills Science Diet), mice, chicken hatchlings and frozen insects. In addition they are fed a variety of living insects (which they prefer over anything else), such as crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, morioworms, woodlice, cockroaches, beetles and spiders. Some people have experienced that young animals which are starting to eat solid food are fond of fruit such as kiwi and banana. Young animals will also eat canary seed. Only a few of my adult animals eat fruit. Pregnant and lactating females receive extra insects and (once a week for pregnant and twice a week for lactating females) Nutrilon soya (dry babyfood) mixed with diluted catmilk. All the food is regularly dusted with vitamins. Clean water is always available although the animals do not drink very often.
Special attention should be given to the weight of the animals since they become fat very easily. Once the animals are too heavy they become very inactive and fasting only has a minor effect.
In September/October it is normal, probably even necessary that the animals gain weight in order to have enough fat reserves for the hibernation period during which they hardly eat.

Sex differenciation
Since Small Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrecs have no external genitals but a cloaca, the sex differenciation is difficult to determine, especially in young animals. Males have a broader head than females with a hairless reddish peri-orbital thickening. In young males this thickening is only visible as a hairless ring aroung the eye. The eye opening is also larger than in females.

In their native environment on Madagascar the Small Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrec hibernates over the dry season. In Europe they easily do this in winter.
In late September, early October the animals spontaneously become less active and start eating less. Early in December the sexes are separated and the temperature is lowered to 18-20 °C. During this time the animals will occasionally drink. Dry catfood is always available but the animals seldomly eat. Early in February the temperature is raised again to "normal". The animals remain separated till March. Separation of sexes during hibernation is probably essential for successful breeding.

In early March, after being separated for 3 months, the animals are paired.
The males become directly excited and produce a white orbital exudate. Mating usually goes on for several weeks with a lot of noise.
Gestation time is appr. 65 days. During gestation the females normally gain between 50 and 100 grams. On one occasion a pregnant female gained 120 grams to a weight of 240 grams. After giving birth to a litter of 4 she weighed 200 grams and kept this weight until hibernation. This illustrates that even when the animals are pregnant or have young they can easily become too fat. A week before the females are due they are given straw and tissues as nesting material and the male is removed, otherwise he will be pestered continuously. In one occasion a male was present at birth and he did not harm the newborn. The litter size differs between 1 and 7.
Newborn are relatively large and weigh between 10 and 15 grams. After 5-8 days the eyes open. Between the second and third week the young start exploring and eating and after 4 weeks the young are independent. (N.B. the speed of development differs considerably between and within litters.) Female and young stay together till hibernation. Sexual maturity is reached after 9 months. At the age of 6 the animals can still breed successfully.

According to my experience tenrecs are suspectible for airway infections. I have lost some animals because of this. In some cases the animals were successfully treated with antibiotics (doxycycline). In these cases they were in reasonably good condition and still eating. Another health issue are dentition problems and jaw abscesses, which caused the death of 4 animals. The first signs were that the animals stopped eating without loosing their interest in food. They would smell and lick the food or bite in it and let go again or would only eat soft food. After a few weeks the animals did not show any interest in food. All animals which had this problem died. Examination of the mouth showed inflamed gums and rotten teeth which could easily be pulled out. In one animal a veterinarian cleaned the mouth and removed loose teeth while the animal was under anaesthesia. This had no effect. The cause of these problems is unknown to me. It might have something to do with an excess of softfood or a lack of hard food. Therefore I regularly feed the animals dry catfood and hard insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and woodlice.

One of the females died after a long and difficult labour. Four young were born normally but the next day, a fifth very large young could not be delivered. It was removed by hand but the female died one day later and we were left with 4 little tenrecs.
The female did clean the young but it is questionable whether they drank during the first 2 days. To our surprise they immediately accepted catmilk from a syringe. We continued feeding every 2-3 hours with warm milk (milk replacer for kittens). This milk contained 7.5% protein and 4.5% fat. From day 3 powdered milk was used. First diluted to a concentration with 10% protein and 7.5% fat. Later from day 6 on to a concentration with 15% protein and 10% fat. The animals preferred the thick milk.
They were given milk for 3 weeks. The amount of milk which the animals drank varied enormously between animals and between feedings. At first, the time between the last and the first feeding of the day was 6 hours, after one week 8 hours and after 2 weeks 10 hours. After feeding their belly and cloaca were massaged with a piece of tissue upon which they easily responded with defaecation. The animals gained about one gram a day. After 2 weeks we saw the animals licking each others cloaca and eating the faeces and urine. One young always drank less than the others and stayed behind in development. Surprisingly it was the first to start eating solid food and quickly caught up in weight. Two of the young seemed to have problems with digesting the milk or defaecation since they had enormously sowllen abdomens. In spite of this they did not seem unhealthy and drunk very well. After 7 days all 4 animals had opened their eyes. After 12 days all started to walk about and explore their world. Normally the young do not come out of the nesting box until they are 12 days old. All 4 young reached adulthood.

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