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WATCH: Saving an Adorable Hedgehog From a West African Death Market

Paula Froelich
Editor at Large
August 6, 2014

WATCH: Saving a Hedgehog From Bamako’s Death Market

Fun fact: People in the West African country of Mali will say, “The country is 80 percent Muslim, 20 percent Christian but 100 percent animist.” Which means that everyone carries amulets, “passports” (leather pouches), and rings that are full of magical potions created by a witch doctor … and that are made with all sorts of animal parts.

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Which also explains why Mali has almost no wildlife to mention, as every animal has been hunted to the point of extinction (which is awful, except for the times you are forced to camp by the side of the Niger River in no man’s land and have to get up to pee at night; the absence of crocodiles comes in handy then, and only then). The dearth of crocodiles in Bamako is even more ironic because “Bamako” is taken from a Bambara word meaning “crocodile river” … not so much anymore, just saying. The animals — or rather, their carcasses, end up in the Fetish Markets across the country… also known as the Witch Doctor or Death Markets.

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The main Fetish / Witch Doctor Market is in the capital, Bamako, where you can find in a state of decay every animal that roam(ed) the country. There are hippos, hyenas, snakes, birds, dogs, lions … and hedgehogs. All waiting to be ground up into powder, blessed, and put into a pouch so that the wearer can traverse the Sahara or the Niger safely. For $2 you can videotape the stalls and take pictures — all while trying not to gag on the smell, which is potent, to say the least.

So there I was, in the middle of the Death Market, when a vendor picked up a ball of bristles. It was a tiny hedgehog-y ball of life in a sea of death. It freaked me out — I mean come on, can you imagine being stuck in a pile of rotting corpses just waiting for your turn? UGH. I started haggling and walked away with Penny, the hedgehog, who was a little expensive, but how often can you save a life for $20?

So I jammed Penny into a box, drove up to the top of Point G — the highest hill just outside of Bamako — and set her free. Or tried to. At first, poor Penny was too terrified to move, and she just kind of sat there. Not that I can blame her. So my friends and I wished her well (see the video below) and waited. After an hour she waddled off. Hopefully to a fruitful and happy life. You never know. But here’s hoping!

A small word about the videos you are about to enjoy…

1. I look like hell, but don’t judge — you try looking good in Bamako. It’s not like there are hair dryers.

2. It’s a little shaky. Deal with it. But you get to see the full scope of the Death Stands, which are pretty interesting.

3. The first blonde is my pal Lucy, the Malian is my friend Sory, and the second blonde is my dear pal Suz. They rock.

Photo: Tiffany Bailey.

This story originally appeared in A Broad Abroad

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