Porcupine at Dusk
Caption: Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) walking along bank of dry riverbed at dusk, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.
Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Focal length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/160; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO 400.
It was during an afternoon game drive in Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana’s Tuli Block that I saw my first porcupine in the wild. As Mollman, our safari guide, eased the Toyota down the steep bank into a dry riverbed, he spotted the porcupine emerging from its burrow (below).
Although it was late afternoon with the low sun casting shadows in parts of the riverbed, this sighting was certainly unusual as porcupines are strictly nocturnal and not normally seen during daylight.
The porcupine was not particularly phased by our presence and set off determinedly across the riverbed, its black-and-white quills backlit by the sun’s last rays (right). Once on the other side, it climbed the bank and quickly disappeared from sight in the adjacent bush.
Porcupine quills are popular symbols of the African bush, much-loved by designers for decorating brochures and websites pertaining to African safaris. For me it was exciting seeing the actual carrier of the quills — the real thing as it were.
One of the myths about porcupines is that they shoot their quills when attacked by predators. As with most non-predators, the porcupine’s immediate response when threatened is to flee. However, if cornered it defends itself agressively, initially trying to scare off the attacker by stamping its feet, rattling its quills and grunting.
If the attacker fails to take evasive action quickly enough, the porcupine will rush backwards or sideways at it and jab the needle-sharp quills deeply into the attacker.
For porcupines, sex can be a prickly issue, but they get round this quite successfully and pairs will, in fact, copulate frequently. Like humans, they don’t only mate for breeding.
See safari guide Roddy Smith’s article, Porcupines Must Mate with Care, for more on this intriguing rodent.
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