This widespread species occurs from Kenya and southern Uganda in the north, through Tanzania, Rwanda, southeastern DRC, extreme southwestern Congo, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, and then south throughout the southern African subregion. It can inhabit a wide range of habitats from tropical forests to semi-deserts, but it does avoid swamps. Part of their ability to have such a wide range is a tolerance for both hot and cold.
The Cape Porcupine belongs to the Old World porcupine genera, and there are at least 3 species inhabiting the African continent. They are all classified as rodents (the order of Rodentia), and the Cape Porcupine is actually the largest rodent on the continent, as well as the largest of all the world’s porcupines.
The Cape Porcupine measures 63 to 81 centimetres (25 to 32 inches) long from the head to the base of the tail, with the tail adding a further 11–20 centimetres (4.3–7.9 inches). They weigh from 10 to 24 kilograms (22 to 53 pounds), with exceptionally large specimens weighing up to 30 kg (66 lb). They are heavily built animals, with stocky bodies, short limbs, and an inconspicuous tail. The word porcupine means “quill pig” in Latin, and the entire back and flank area of a porcupine is covered with sharp, black and white quills that can grow up to 50 cm long. The quills can be made to rattle when the animal is threatened and can get stuck into its enemies if they try to attack the porcupine. It is not true that they can “shoot” the quills at attackers!
They are very shy and nocturnal, coming out at night to feed on fruits, roots, tubers, bulbs and other vegetarian matter. They have also been reported to gnaw on carrion and bones. Their teeth and gut are adapted to handle tough material that other animals may not be able to break down or digest. It is generally believed the Cape Porcupine gnaws these bones both for their mineral content and to sharpen their long incisors. Unfortunately they also have a fondness for cultivated root crops such as cassava, potatoes, pumpkins and carrots, thus often falling foul of farmers.
Spending most of the day sleeping hidden away in communal burrows, Cape Porcupines are territorial and monogamous, typically living as mated pairs of adults, caring for their young together. They mate throughout the year, although births are most common during the rainy season between August and March. Gestation lasts around 3 months, and the newborns weigh 300 to 440 grams (11 to 16 oz), and initially have soft quills. They are weaned at around 100 days of age, and grow rapidly for the first twenty weeks, reaching the full adult size at the end of their first year. Cape Porcupines are long-lived, easily surviving for fifteen years in the wild, or up to twenty years in captivity.
Although the Cape Porcupine is part of Africa’s unofficial “Shy 5” and “Secret 7”, indicating the difficulty in spotting it on a game drive, several reserves and parks in South Africa probably afford tourists the best chance of seeing these fascinating creatures.
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