SA Wildlife: Cape Porcupine {Hystrix africaeaustralis} (Photo)

This is also known as the Cape Porcupine and is known for its stout, sturdy structure. In fact, it is the largest rodent in southern Africa and one of the largest in the world.

They can be distinguished from other porcupine species by the strip of white, short spines that runs along the middle of their rumps and their black-and-white colouring.

Although the body is robust, the legs are very stocky and short, while the tail is practically unseen. The spines covering the body measure about 50mm in length, with sharp black defence quills scattered in-between. These are shorter, at around 30mm and have a very sharp tip. In addition, they have coarse fur that can be brown or black. The quills have black and white bands all along their length, making them popular for use in arts and crafts. Those wanting to use them should be committed to ensuring that they were obtained in an eco-friendly, non-harmful way. Some of the tail quills are hollow and make a rattling noise when shaken by the animal. He porcupine does not shoot its quills out in defence, as it is rumoured to do. Rather, they get stuck in whatever touches the porcupine.

The South African Porcupine has small eyes and ears and rather short whiskers.

QUICK FACTS

Size

The Cape Porcupine is 630 to 810 mm in length (excluding the small tail, which is about 110 to 200mm long).

Weight

Both males and females weigh between 10 and 24 kg. Some really big males can weigh up to 30 kg, but this is unusual.

Habitat

The Cape Porcupine does not demand a particularly defined or specialised habitat. They can be found in high and low elevations, and in a variety of conditions. However, they are absent in swamplands, and are very seldom found in very arid areas or in dense forests.

Distribution

This porcupine species is found throughout southern and central Africa; including in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and the Congo.

Diet – Omnivorous

Although the Cape Porcupine will dine mainly on vegetation, it has been known to gnaw on bones and carrion too. More often, though, it will eat fruit, seeds, roots, bulbs and bark. Their teeth and gut are both adapted to handle tough material that other animals may not be able to break down or digest. Because of their preference for plant roots and bulbs, these porcupines can become a pest amongst farmers, who make their living from the crops. Their digging does promote soil oxygenation and the new growth of bulbs, though.

Socialisation

The Cape Porcupine is a monogamous animal and will usually live with its mate, defending its territory (which can consist of around six different burrows) together. Typically, the male is more defensive of their territory, which they both mark. They care for their young together, but will usually forage for food independently of their mate. This porcupine species is nocturnal.

If the porcupine is attacked, its initial reaction is to freeze and wait for the danger to pass. However, if it feels that it needs to take action, it will charge the attacker with its quills erect, making it look a lot bigger and more vicious than in its usual state.

Alternatively, the porcupine may hide in its burrow with only its quills exposed. This makes it practically impossible for the predator to retrieve.

Reproduction

Although they tend to give birth during the rainy season (August to December, often extending right through to March), the South African Porcupine actually breeds all year round. The female goes into oestrus for about nine days. She will give birth to one litter per year (unless a previous litter was lost), which comprises of one to three babies (although about half of the births are of only one baby).

The young are born with soft quills and incisors, while the other teeth start appearing at two weeks of age. These little ones are weaned at about 100 days, and reach sexual maturity at around one year.

Gestation

The gestation period of the South African Porcupine is about 94 days, or roughly three months, long.

Life Expectancy

The Cape Porcupine lives for a relatively long time. In the wild, their lifespan is about a decade, while they can live for double that period in captivity.

Predators

Due to their effective defence system, the African Porcupine does not easily succumb to predators. However, they are sometimes challenged by lions, leopards, hyenas, and the like.

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