A WOMAN faces a £4,000 bill for bringing three hedgehogs into the country.
Michelle Fountain, 35, claims she was told she did not need to quarantine the trio of African pigmy hedgehogs she imported last month.
The animals, which came from mainland Europe, had been living in in her home for several weeks before a specialist hedgehog breeder warned they should have been checked for rabies.
Mrs Fountain now has to put the animals in quarantine for six months - but is not sure if she can find the £4,000 needed.
The furious mum-of-two said: "I contacted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in April and was assured they didn't need to be quarantined. These animals have been in my home and could have been infected.
"If I have to find the money I will, but I am the full-time carer of two autistic sons and I have very little to spare.
"I couldn't part with them, though, as they have become part of the family."
Mrs Fountain, who cares for her sons, aged 18 and 13, at their home in Chaingate Avenue, Southend, is an exotic pet enthusiast.
She added: "I am furious. I tried to do everything by the book and end up in this mess. I have been so worried I can't deal with anything else at the moment."
Adrian Rogers, from Defra, said: "It is important that animals such as the pigmy hedgehog go into quarantine when they are imported into the UK.
"We aim to provide correct and up-to-date information. We take complaints seriously and are looking into this matter."