Locating the mammal may be rare in the Sultanate. However, a group of shutterbugs were lucky to track them at Sinaw in Al Sharqiyah Governorate.
Though rare to spot because of its nocturnal habit and shy nature, it is common to sight them on Suhar-Barka road.
The photographers were on a weekend jaunt to a farm house to shoot Pallid scops owl, or the striated scops owl.
The group led by Bavish Kizhakoodan Balan along with seven of his friends Sudeer Shamsudeen, Shine Balan, Ramesh Krishna, Sreenivas T P and Althaf Abdul left Muscat by noon.
A big surprise and excitement was in store during their return journey to Muscat from Sinaw. It was 7 pm and with no proper lighting they managed to capture photos using the car head lights.
While driving with his friends, Bavish saw a rodent-like creature moving rapidly in front of the car. Sudheer, Shine and Ramesh pranced out and stopped the mammal and identified it as a hedgehog.
The mammal dug its head and legs into itself forming shape of a spiny ball. This is the natural instinct of a hedgehog when it feels threatened. Excited to see a hedgehog and to take a photo they quietly crawled to positions lying flat on the ground with the cameras.
The car headlights served as the lighting and once all movements settled down, the hedgehog slowly showed its face out to check the surrounding.
Even a slightest of the movement or sounds would have sent it back to its defensive position like a ball. After the clicks of cameras and muffled talks the hedgehog took the confidence to walk away again giving them couple of snaps.
Bhavish forgot to keep the flash in his bag, but Canon 5D Mark 4 having good ISO performance in low light, helped him to click. 7 camera shutters were opened and Bhavish took more shots by borrowing Althaf’s flash.
Here the photographers share their mixed reactions on sighting the hedgehog.
Bhavish: It was a dream find. They are very small and shy and hard to notice in the wild. However, we were very happy in the end.
The desert hedgehog is usually identified by its dark muzzle. If threatened, their muscles go tight and pull its outer layer of skin around the body, making their quills stick out in all directions.
The quills tend to be longer than other hedgehogs for better protection against predation. As such it is extremely difficult to catch one.
Mithun C Mohan: He first noticed desert hedgehog at Dubai Aquarium Zoo in a glassed cage. As a photography enthusiast and animal lover his first thought was self-pity. Since then was bent on seeing one of them in their habitat and to photograph them.
Hedgehogs in Oman are distributed across the terrains both in arid and vegetated areas of an oasis or coastal region. Mostly nocturnal, they sleep almost 18 hours a day.
Non-poisonous spines cover the hedgehog entire body except for the head, belly and legs. Mostly insectivores but their diet include birds’ eggs, small reptiles like lizards, scorpions or even snakes. The young hedgehogs at birth are deaf and blind. More interestingly at birth the spines are under the skin and hidden which emerges out in few hours. Whenever threatened a hedgehog will tighten the muscles and pull the skin around its body while rolling into a ball and thus the spines will stick out in all directions.
Sreenivas T P: The wait for nearly 3 years was finally successful. I came across them on the road while coming back from Jebel Shams and once at Sinaw after astro-photography during the late hours but failed to photograph. They cross the road very fast.
Hedgehogs are well adapted to hunting their food in the dark. They have exceptional hearing and a great sense of smell. The location of their noses at the end of a long snout helps them to forage for food in low light.
Sudeer Shamsudeen: We visited the farm of Yahya al Shabibi, my colleague’s uncle to shoot for owls. Lush with dates, lemon, mangoes and garlic the farm offered a perfect camouflage. After searching long we spotted two adult and juvenile Pallid scoops owl and took photos. The hedgehog enters hibernation when temperatures are cooler between January and February becoming less active when food is scarce in the hotter months.
Shine Balan: It was my luckiest day ever. I had always wished to see the mammal closely. But I never imagined it to crop up right in front. We managed click from car lights by using 50 mm lens, wide aperture. As it was disturbing the mammal, I used sigma 150-600 mm sigma lens.
Althaf Abdul: We were happy to capture hedgehog from our camera which was on our bucket list. Oman offers perfect spot for wildlife photography and we need spend more time to cover all of them. I had earlier seen pictures of hedgehog in Sharqiyah Governorate.
Ramesh Krishna: He feels lucky to capture hedgehog in such a short span. “We parked the car focusing the light on the mammal and at last started to move and got the chance to capture hedgehog for the first time,” he recalls.