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Porcupines
Crested Porcupines, Hystrix cristata

Found: North Africa, Sicily and Italy

Habitat: Rocky slopes, dry plains.

Status: Common

Food in the wild: roots, bark, fallen fruit

Food in zoo: fruit, brown bread, vitamins

Gestation: 112 days, typically results in 2 young.

Lifespan: 8 - 20 years.
We all know the worrier! Spike frets his lunch may not come, and here we see him nibbling his paw in frustration

Photos J.C. Aitken ©
Arican Crested Porcupine.

Arican Crested Porcupine. These were imported from Natal, South Africa, and has this typical tall crest, and long, trailing spines. Glasgow Zoopark has successfully reared over 40 litters of porcupines since 1978.

We have assisted the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow with a loan of some long spikes from the porcupines used as props in a production they were doing.


North American Porcupine - Erithizon dorsatum

Spike 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!

Blackpool also bred them indoors in their giant isolation area in the equivalent of loose boxes with wire fronts.

We 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.

This 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.

The native North Americans believe that these porcupines contain the spirits of their ancestors.

On 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.

Not 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 rabbit hutches.
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.

The 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.