Porcupine: It’s really in a ‘pickle’, or would that be ‘prickle’?
The name porcupine means ‘spiny pig’ in French. The females are called sows, the males are boars and the young are pups. Appropriately the family unit is called a Prickle. They are the third largest rodent in the world growing up to 36 inches long. They are not currently considered endangered but they are hunted for meat by animals and humans. Additionally they are killed for their quills which are craft supplies all over the world and are considered good omens for some cultures. The farmers consider them an agricultural demon ravishing many crops and trees. Eventually these practices will surpass the reproduction of the Amazing Cape Porcupine.
How Nikela Helps
There is not a specific program targeting the Cape porcupine at the moment, as it is not currently on the endangered list. Nikela has found that informing people about the habitat of all animals can reduce the human influences in the demise of species.
Facts About the Porcupine
The Cape Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis)- or the old world porcupines are members of the “Shy Five”
Both the male and female cape porcupines grow to about two feet long and weigh up to 60 pounds. The quills of the cape porcupine are the longest in the world. Their coarse hairs are blackish brown in color and have head dresses made of quills and spines that are multicolored camouflage. These quills and spines also cover the majority of their body and are soft but present when they are born and harden within an hour. The short quills on the nose are thought to be scent locators for food and sensors for nearby predators. The long hollow spines are called rattles and much like the rattle snake, this loud ominous sound is the first warning. The long barbed quills cover the back and tail sections and are the true defense weapons. These quills contain an antibiotic which is released when removed by the victim. The quills are constantly reproduced. They have wide soled feet with four toes, the rear feet also possess a thumb like projection and they are all adorned with claws. Their teeth are always growing as in all rodents.
Their diet consists mostly of roots, herbs, fruit, and bark. They have become quite fond of local crops such as corn, cassava and sugarcane too. They are seekers of salt and calcium, thus chewing bones of dead animals and building materials maintains these nutrients and sharpens their rodent incisor teeth. They tend to ring trees of bark causing the loss of trees.
Being member of the “shy five” (which include meerkats, aardvarks, aardwolves and bat-eared foxes) they are all nocturnal feeders. The porcupines form clans that share the same burrows or shelters and feeding areas. Their clans usually consist of immediate family members only, the two adults and up to four young. They frequently steal the homes of other animals for underground refuges. Being solitary feeders with poor eyesight they are gifted with acute hearing and odor sensing for predator detection. They avoid conflict whenever possible but if threats persist they will suddenly back into the aggravator and impale them with quills. Their quills can also sense vibrations indicating predators are nearby.
There is some debate on the mating rituals of porcupines, some females lie on their back while others simply lower their quills to allow the male to do their part. They reproduce once a year. The pups are usually born in numbers of two and weigh approximately 12 ounces each. Both parents take turns caring for the young, and they are weaned by eight weeks. This is when the parents take them out to learn the art of finding food and teaching them about the dangers they will face. The females are called sows, the males are boars and the young are pups. Appropriately the family unit is called a Prickle. They live from 15 to 23 years in the wild and are said to be monogamous mammals.
Distribution and Habitat
The countries known to house these little gems are Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Burundi, Congo.
They like moist plantations to dry tropical lands and prefer rocky areas. They have adapted to almost any environment. The old world cape Porcupines dwell mostly on land while the new Porcupines dwell in trees.
Conservation Status and Threats
Presently there are strict laws protecting these wonderful creatures in Europe. Yet, they are routinely smoked out of their homes and killed with spears and other crude weapons.
Their quills are high priced items in markets all around the world, and they are hunted down and killed for them. Surely with today’s technology we could make those quills out of plastic and let the porcupines live.
In morocco they are sold in the open market for their medicinal qualities and in Africa they are killed for meat. The farmers in Africa poison them to protect their crops.
With all these countries killing porcupines how long do you think they can survive? These species have small litters, eat mostly bark and tubers.
They are killed daily all over the world and yet remain on the least concern list for extinction. Do we really have to wait until there are only a few left in the world?
We should start protecting them now. Set aside preservation areas for them to live in peace, and pass laws to prevent their demise.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Sandra Lawson
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