Britain's beloved hedgehogs are in crisis. Some 50,000 hedgehogs die every year under the wheels of cars and trucks throughout the U.K. That high death rate has had a mighty toll on the cute little creatures: There are now 300,000 fewer hedgehogs in Britain than there were a decade ago. (Other threats to hedgehogs include loss of habitat to industrial farms.)

According to research from the People's Trust for Endangered Species, which has been monitoring hedgehog deaths and populations, the greatest losses are in Wales, where hedgehog populations have dropped 78 percent since 2001. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has warned that hedgehogs could go extinct in Wales by 2025 if steps are not taken soon.

To help call attention to the rapid decline of hedgehogs, SEGA Corp., publisher of the long line of Sonic the Hedgehog video games, recently built a "hedgehog crossing" in the London neighborhood of Twickenham. Little more than a photo op for the latest Sonic game, the temporary event ran just long enough for photographers to snap shots of four hedgehogs walking across a street in front of an attractive young crossing guard (or "lollipop lady," as they are known there).

None of the world's 17 hedgehog species are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but some are protected in certain countries. Others are recognized as species that will be in trouble soon. For example, the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is listed under the U.K.'s 1994 Biodiversity Action Plan as a species that needs conservation and greater protection, although no measures have been taken in the 16years since that plan was written.

It's too bad that SEGA didn't stick around and pledge more support for hedgehogs, because they have made so much money via their iconic hedgehog character in the past 20 years. But I'm not surprised; it's typical of corporations that use animals as their brands. Marvel Comics donates nothing to help wolverines. Gorilla Glue has no charitable program to protect gorillas. Apple profits handsomely from its Snow Leopard operating system, but does no work to protect actual snow leopards. The list goes on and on.

Still, at least SEGA went far enough to say that there is a problem. That's more than most companies would do. Now if only some heroes (video game characters or not) would actually come forward to rescue the hedgehogs before it is too late.

Photo: European hedgehog via Wikipedia. Sonic the Hedgehog © & ™SEGA Corp.