Porcupine quills lodge under
skin like fishhooks

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Porcupine

Conservation Status:

Least Threatened

  • Native to more than 30 African countries
  • Their quills are up to 14 inches long
  • Can weigh up to 60 pounds

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Hystrix cristata

Weight

Approximately 44 lb.

Size

About 30 in. long

Life span

Up to 20 years in captivity

Habitat

Hilly, rocky country

Diet

Herbivorous

Gestation

About 112 days

Predators

Pythons, leopards, large owls

Habitat

Where do porcupines live?

Porcupines are most common in hilly, rocky country, but they can adapt to most habitats—excessively moist forests and the most barren of deserts seem to be the only exceptions. They have even been found on Mt. Kilimanjaro, as high up as 11,480 feet.

Tags: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, East Africa, West/Central Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is a porcupine?

The word porcupine means “quill pig” in Latin; however, porcupines are large rodents and have no relation to pigs. The crested porcupine is the largest and heaviest of all African rodents. The head is roundish and rather domed, with a blunt muzzle and small eyes and ears. The legs are short and sturdy, and each foot has five toes, all equipped with powerful claws. The porcupine’s most recognizable feature is, of course, its quills. Quill length varies on different parts of the body, ranging from 1 inch to 1 foot on the back. Usually, the quills lie flat against the body, but if danger threatens, the porcupine raises and spreads them. Scales on quill tips lodge in the skin like fishhooks and are difficult to pull out. New quills grow in to replace lost ones.

Behavior & Diet

They will cheat on their vegetarian diets.

Porcupines primarily eat roots, tubers, bark, and fallen fruit but also have a fondness for cultivated root crops such as cassava, potatoes, and carrots. Sometimes, they will even take carrion back to the burrow to nibble on.

Porcupines like to set up homes in burrows.

Porcupines modify natural shelters among roots and rocks, inhabit holes made by other animals, or dig their own hideaways. These burrows are most commonly occupied in family units.

Females like to give birth in the comfort of their own homes.

The gestation period of the African crested is about 112 days. Between one and four young are born in the grass-lined burrow. They are well-developed and are born with open eyes. The young leave home for the first time at about 2 weeks of age, as their quills—soft at birth—begin to harden. They are quite playful and, outside the burrow, they run and chase one another. The young are suckled from 6 to 8 weeks of age and then begin to eat vegetable matter. 

The porcupine attacks in reverse.

It warns potential enemies of its defense system when alarmed. The porcupine will stamp its feet, click its teeth, and growl or hiss while vibrating specialized quills that produce a characteristic rattle. If an enemy persists, the porcupine runs backward until it rams its attacker. The reverse charge is most effective because the hindquarters are the most heavily armed, and the quills are directed to the rear.

Gallery
  • Porcupine AWF
  • Porcupine AWF
  • Porcupine Harry Van Der Linder
  • Porcupine Keith and Colleen Begg
Challenges

Human-wildlife conflict threatens porcupines’ existence.

As human populations expand, humans and porcupines find themselves in increasingly close quarters. When porcupine populations close to cultivated areas surge, they can become serious agricultural pests. They are smoked out of their burrows and hunted with spears, nets, or dogs. These practices have eliminated them from densely settled areas.

They are targeted for their quills.

Porcupine quills have long been a favorite ornament and good-luck charm in Africa. The hollow rattle quills serve as musical instruments and were once used as containers for gold dust.

Solutions

Our solutions to protecting the porcupine:

  • Provide education on sustainable growth.

    African Wildlife Foundation educates communities about the importance of sustainable practices for agricultural and settlement growth by providing training on best practices and incentivizing conservation agriculture when appropriate.

  • Set aside land for wildlife.

    AWF engages local communities to set aside land for wildlife to live undisturbed. In the Laikipia region of Kenya—which has no formal protected areas—we partnered with the Koija community and a private operator to construct the Koija Starbeds Lodge. Koija Starbeds sets aside land for wildlife while, at the same time, creating jobs and income for the local community. 

Projects

Will you show the porcupine your support?

With your help, AWF can work on critical initiatives like providing training on sustainable agriculture and conservation tourism projects, like Koija Starbeds, to benefit local communities and their surrounding wildlife. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the porcupine does not become an endangered species.  

  • Kitengela Land Conservation
    Protecting habitat and communities near Kenya’s capital

    Human expansion is threatening wildlife outside of Nairobi, Kenya.

    For many years, local Maasai communities, their livestock, and wildlife comfortably shared the open...

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  • Sekute Conservation Area
    Community-wide protection of Zambia’s wildlife

    Agriculture and population growth threaten wildlife in Zambia. 

    Historically, wildlife roamed freely around the Sekute Chiefdom in southern Zambia. But, in recent...

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