African Crested Porcupine

 

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Range: African continent south of the Sahara to South Africa . 

Habitat: Found in varied habitats.  The Crested Porcupine will avoid dense rainforest but can be found in virtually all other types of habitats. This species is proving to be very adaptable to the varied habitats of it's home range.

These animals have been observed to 11,000 feet, that is over two miles high!  

The famed Mt. Kilimanjaro can even claim to be home to these amazing rodents, this species has been found at elevations well over 8,000 feet on this beautiful African landmark. 

Seeming to prefer grasslands with ample burrowing opportunities, these giant rodents are also at home in rocky terrain.   

 

Rain Forest Facts: This species is active at dusk and at night making the animal nocturnal

Both the African Crested and the Indian porcupines are, for the most part, inactive during the day, this often depends upon season and temperature variables.  Day time activity for these giant rodents often involves sleeping in self excavated burrows, large dens of cavities of rocks, under boulder heaps, or in river thickets with several exits. 

Being very opportunistic, it is not uncommon to find a porcupine in an unused burrow that had previously been excavated by other large mammals or reptiles. 

African Sulcata tortoises can dig massive burrows that often serve as shelter for young porcupines.   The porcupine itself is quite capable of digging deep burrows that often serve as shelter for other types of animals as well.  Equipped with large powerful toe nails, as well as strong digging limbs, these rodents can move a surprising amount of even the hardest packed soil. 

Not unlike many other mammals, the porcupine may have a tendency to use the same path to enter and exist the den each day, this activity can lead to the establishment of some well worn paths leading from these den sites to favorite feeding grounds. 

When excited, the porcupines grunt.  If threatened, they stamp their hind feet and rattle the rattle-quills, which is not unlike our rattlesnakes here in the U.S.   By utilizing a similar technique to the well known rattlesnake, the porcupine actually serves the same type of warning to would-be predators. 

In days of old the quill of this giant rodent was actually hollowed out and used to transport gold.  Long a status symbol and a musical instrument in Africa, the quill is also sought by fisherman the world over for it's amazing ability to float. 

Conversely the porcupine seems also capable of using the behaviors of bouncing, running, foot stomping and even the amazing tail rattling to show happiness or excitement.  Our experiences with captive porcupines has taught us when the animals are actually nervous, due to a loud noise or unknown condition, or when they are just having fun like a little puppy!

Predators, while rare, do exist for the porcupine and they include African rock pythons, leopards, lions, cheetahs, and the occasional serval.  Although the porcupine’s excellent defense is generally a deterrent to predators, a hungry animal that startles the porcupine can gain the upper hand.   This is generally achieved by quick blows to the head of the porcupine. The head of the porcupine does not have the needle sharp quills that are found on the back of the animal.

A myth that exists about all species of porcupine is that they can "shoot" their quills.  Porcupines do not have the ability to shoot their quills. Instead, when in danger, the porcupine erects the quills, spines and jumps, or runs backward or sideways to drive the quills into the predator.  If pursued, the animal may stop suddenly, causing the predator to run into the quills. 

The quills detach very easily from the porcupine, often they are embedded quite deeply.   Literally dozens of quills may be embedded into the animal that was pursuing, or harassing, the porcupine.   Given the large size and diameter of adult porcupine quills the likelihood of at least one of the quills striking a major organ or an artery are very good, this often results in fairly rapid death for even the largest of predators.  An even more likely fate is that the animal that has the quills embedded into its skin is likely to be either unable to feed, or hunt, resulting in a long and slow starvation from the presence of the quills. 

 

 

  The long white hairs that protrude from the back of the African crested porcupine are often referred to as trigger, or guard hairs.  These long sensitive hairs can often exceed two feet in length. 

The guard hairs differ from the quills which are rigid and sharp. The guard hairs are much denser than a human hair but are quite flexible and do not have a sharp point.

Their primary purpose is to alert the porcupine as to the direction of the threat.  Since the hairs are positioned around the rear of the animal, they act as the porcupines "eyes" as it can literally feel the predator and tell the exact direction to charge back wards. 

For example, once the porcupine is aware that a young lion has decided to make a meal out of the rodent, the porcupine will turn backwards and literally fluff up all of it's quills. As soon as the lion touches the long guard hairs on the right or the left side of the porcupine, the giant rodent will charge backwards in the direction of the disturbed guard hairs. 

 

 

A predator that survives the initial attack of quills from the porcupine may often succumb later to infection or starvation as they are unable to hunt for food with the quills still in their bodies.

Solitary by nature it is not uncommon for small family groups to share dens or burrows when suitable sites are hard to find.  A female porcupine who is about to give birth will almost always seek a burrow of her own to raise the young. 

Foraging is generally done alone except when parents accompany their young.

Sexual maturity is reached at two years.  In the wild, breeding usually takes place in the summer of northern Africa and from July through December in mid-Africa.  In captivity, it has been reported year round.  Generally, two litters a year of one to four are born after a seven to eight week gestation.  The young are about 10 ounces at birth with open eyes and soft, short quills.  They suckle for up to two months although solid food is taken at approximately two weeks. They begin venturing out of the den at one week of age.

Natural Diet: Plant material which includes roots, bark, and other parts of many species of plants.  Where porcupines interact with humans they can be a problem for cultivated human crops. 

Diet at Rain Forest: Various fruits and vegetables. They favor apples and carrots. Sweet potatoes are another food that is greedily consumed by our porcupines. Small amounts of protein are supplemented using high protein dry dog food.

Size:  20-45 pounds. The average length is 30". Their quills may be up to 20" in length.

Status in Wild:  The African crested porcupine is not listed on the Endangered Species List.  However, due to the damage this species has done to cultivated crops, it has been exterminated in several parts of its range.  Although the quills are naturally shed, the animals have been killed to take the quills for ornaments and charms.

This species is a classic example of an animal holding its own or actually expanding its range due to the lack of large predators. 

 

Once the large predators such as lions, leopards, etc, were drastically reduced, or eliminated, the porcupine was able to increase its numbers in the wild.    The consequences of such increases are not yet fully understood.  

Damage from an over population of any animal can be catastrophic on plants and other animal species who depend upon the plants as a food source.  The natural balance that occurs between prey and predator is critical in any environment.  While it may seem beneficial for the porcupine to expand its range, the actual facts concerning the porcupines impact on the native plants, etc is little understood. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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