North American Porcupine - Erithizon dorsatum
was acquired from "Winged World" (long since closed) at New Heysham
Head, Lancaster, or from Blackpool Zoo, Lancashire from an importation
organised by Cyril Grace the then Director.
Clive Roots ( I think) organised the Heysham importation in the
late 1960's which is when I first saw them there (or else in 1974).
By the mid - 1970's they were breeding there in wire fronted aviary
- type enclosures facing the sea!
also bred them indoors in their giant isolation area in the equivalent
of loose boxes with wire fronts.
imported a few via Ravensden the Zoo dealers, direct from Canada
( I think), in the early 1980's.
They were fine during the 6 months, rabies quarantine at Ravensden,
but quickly succumbed to colds and pneumonia - like conditions brought
about, I'm positive, by the macho attitude of the senior keeper
at that time.
I believe they need very careful, trusting handling, with a gradual
introduction to our very larger naturalistic enclosures especially
after months of close secure dry confinement.
Turfing them out abrubtly into an enclosure without letting them
find their way around slowly and gradually from the dry, sleeping
dens outwards, created such stresses that it left them very vulnerable
- in my (Richard O'Grady) opinion.The keeper disagreed, feeling
I was being too fussy. He is no longer with us. Sadly Spike had
to be euthanised in early May 2001 due to untreatable ill health.
long-haired animal is held sacred by native North Americans. They
will only be killed for food in the direst of circumstances to stave
off starvation at the end of a long, cold winter.
native North Americans believe that these porcupines contain the
spirits of their ancestors.
a more practical note, the spines, though small, are very
dangerous, if not thoroughly and meticulously removed before cooking,
a spine accidentally swallowed can work its way through the gut
wall and may even succeed in killing the eater after a tortuously
slow and agonising few months.
so long ago these animals, members of the rodent family, were frequently
kept in small enclosures. Back in the 1970's Paignton and other
zoos, kept these intelligent animals in cages, little bigger than
Modern studies in the wild - confirmed by our own observations -
have shown them capable of recognising individual humans as far
away as 100 metres. Those they don't like, they will grind their
teeth at with evident displeasure.
budgie aviary in their enclosure is not a cage, but a sanctuary
for the porcupines should danger threaten, or there be heavy rain;
they will then disappear inside, only to reappear once the coast
is clear again.