The city of Wrocław is asking residents to choose the best road sign to warn drivers to watch out for passing hedgehogs.
An estimated 40,000 hedgehogs, which animal protection charities say are an important part of the urban ecosystem, are killed on Poland’s roads each year, and collisions also pose a danger to drivers.
Wrocław’s roads authority has teamed up with a local animal protection charity, Ekostraż, to increase awareness of the dangers hedgehogs face on roads, reports TVN24. Residents are being asked to choose, from a shortlist of three signs, the one most likely to make drivers slow down.
The signs – depicting “a hedgehog, just a hedgehog”, “a hedgehog crossing”, and “a hedgehog and hoglet crossing” – can be voted for on the authority’s Facebook page until 31 December. The public vote will then be taken into account when installing new signs.
“In most cases, drivers are not aware that a place is also a migration route for hedgehogs,” explained Klaudia Piątek, spokeswoman for Wrocław roads authority.
“A characteristic sign in an appropriate place will be our request for greater concentration and observation of the road by drivers,” she explained. “We also hope it will cause them to slow down.”
“Hedgehogs are very useful and important for the urban ecosystem, but unfortunately every year they die under the wheels of cars,” said Katarzyna Szakowska of Ekostraż, quoted by TVN24.
They need the special protection that road signs and other traffic calming measures can provide because, unlike larger animals, they do not run away when faced with a threat such as an oncoming car, but curl into a ball, she explained.
Male hedgehogs are particularly endangered during mating season, when they expand their territory, while many females die on the roads when they are feeding more prior to hibernation.
Poland is home to both European hedgehogs and northern white-breasted hedgehogs, both of which are protected species in the country. Their numbers are thought to be in decline because of loss of natural habitats and diminishing prey, as well as the dangers of crossing roads.
Wrocław is not the only city keen to protect its prickly inhabitants. Kraków this year put up 26 signs warning drivers to watch out for them in response to an initiative by a local environmental association which has set up shelters for hibernating hedgehogs as well as an interactive map where people can report sightings.
Main image credit: Zarząd Dróg i Utrzymania Miasta we Wrocławiu/Facebook
Ben Koschalka is a translator and senior editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.