|At a Glance|
|Lifespan||12-15 years in the wild|
|Conservation Status||Least Concern|
The porcupine is the largest rodent in southern Africa. It has a distinctive appearance with its protective body covering of long rigid quills and flexible spines, banded in black and white. A crest of erectile long coarse hairs runs from the top of the head along the neck to the shoulder. The crest is raised with the quills when the animal is alarmed or angry. The head and snout are broad, with small rounded ears and small eyes. The legs are short and stoutly built, with heavily clawed feet. The short tail is surrounded by a number of short, hollow and open-ended quills. These produce a characteristic rattling when the tail is shaken, serving as a warning.
Porcupines live in extended family groups including both parents and their young of several years. Each group has a distinct territory. TheCape Porcupine is primarily nocturnal, although it may be seen during the day. They have quite acute hearing and will freeze when approached by predators, such as big cats, large predatory birds, or hyaenas. When cornered, these porcupines can be aggressive, running sideways or backwards to embed their sharp quills in an attacker.
Cape porcupines are mostly vegetarian, using their strong digging claws to get roots, tubers, and bulbs. They are also fond of fallen fruits and will sometimes gnaw on bark. Their anterior large intestine and enlarged appendix contain microorganisms that break down undigested plant fibers. They have also been reported to eat carrion in some instances. In areas deficient in phosphorous they practice osteophagia, or gnawing on bones. These porcupines will often accumulate large piles of bones in their dens.
Male porcupines reach sexual maturity between eight and eighteen months, while females reach sexual maturity between nine and sixteen months. Because of their dangerous anatomy, females initiate copulation by presenting to the males. Gestation lasts for three months. The young are born in litters of one to four into a grass-lined chamber in the parents' den during the wet months of August to March. The average litter size is 1 and the average newborn mass is 311g. Young are born relatively well-developed, with their eyes open and teeth present. They have soft quills and spines at birth, most likely to ease the birthing process but they quickly harden in the air. The young grow rapidly, reaching full size in about a year. They nurse for three to four months at which point they will weigh four to five kilograms.
They live in North Africa, South Africa and East Africa.
Cape Porcupines are found from sea level to 2000 m above sea level in most areas with vegetation. They prefer rocky hills and outcrops, as they must have shelter during the day. They often take shelter in caves or antbear holes. They also build dens which can be up to 20m long with a 2m deep living.
They are considered a nuisance by many farmers who shoot them. In Krantzkloof they have no local enemies.
More recently porcupine quills have become sought after both as components of ornamental jewellery and décor items. There is concern that the populations will not be able to sustain the pressure of hunting to supply this demand.
Cape Porcupine are very common in Krantzkloof NR and are found throughout the reserve. As they are nocturnal they are seldom seen but their quills can be often found on the trails.
There are no local predators.
Porcupines are classified as rodents – these are basically animals that gnaw things. The word rodent comes from a Latin word that means “to gnaw” (naw). The name porcupine comes from the French, porc espin (spined pig).
It is often believed that porcupines can “shoot” quills backwards but this is not true.
A video clip is available on YouTube.