A young crested porcupine (Hystrix cristata) snuggles and perks up between two armored fortresses of bicolored quills from its two parents. Porcupines are nocturnal animals, taking refuge in daylight under thick vegetation, burrows, and caves. This family group likes to nestle in a tiny clearing, and we’ve been able to see at least one porcupine at a time from down the escarpment on several occasions. It’s always a treat to see nocturnal animals during the day, when visibility is improved. I took this shot in low light conditions while bracing against a rock, just before sunset. Shortly after, the baby got up and scaled a steep cliff just behind its parents and disappeared into the brush. Rock hyraxes scurried away from the path of the little porcupine, who was clearly on a mission. It was surprising that the parents didn’t seem to mind their young one wandering off, especially in an area where baboons are common. After fifteen minutes, the parents rustled from their slumber, and one made its way off in another direction. Light levels continued to fall, and we presume that the other parent soon commenced its nighttime activities. Before I had seen a porcupine, I kept finding broken off quills on the ground. Genets and white-tailed mongooses were semi-frequent visitors around my house, but for months I wasn’t able to find this large charismatic rodent. Comparatively, porcupines are larger and less elusive creatures, so I was puzzled why I hadn’t been able to see them. Finally, as I was searching at night, a large porcupine came hobbling along at a moderate pace. It showed no signs of defensive behavior, and I got about two meters away before it ducked into the bushes.
Porcupines are the largest rodent in sub-Saharan Africa. Their bodies can reach over two feet long and they are bulky, weighing up to 50 pounds. But their quills make them substantially larger in appearance. Porcupines have tens of thousands of thick keratinized quills, longer ones concentrated near the rear end. When threatened, they erect their quills into a crest and turn to present their backside to the aggressor. They can also tremble their bodies to produce a whirring sound from clacking the quills together. How cool would it be to witness this behavior. Porcupines are formidable prey to even the most capable of predators in the African savanna. They can inflict grievous and even fatal injuries to leopards, lions, and hyenas by charging them and impaling them from the back side. Though porcupines are herbivorous, they have an interesting habit of gnawing on bones, funnily enough even bones from other geologic epochs (one account documents porcupine chewing on remains from the Pliocene). This behavior is thought to not only sharpen their rodent incisors, but also aid in calcium uptake. There is also evidence that porcupines may collect bones and retrieve them to their places of refuge.
Photographed in situ