All About the African Porcupine

The African porcupine is otherwise known as the crested porcupine.

The name literally means ‘quill pig’ in Latin, but these animals are not related to the pig in any way. Instead, they are the heaviest and largest African rodents, with a unique way to defend themselves.

What You Should Know

Porcupines live in northern and sub-Saharan Africa. They prefer the rocky and hilly country but will adapt to almost any environment. The only place they aren’t found is in the barren desert. Some have even been seen on Mt. Kilimanjaro over 11,000 feet above sea level.

The African porcupine sets up its home in a burrow. They will dig their own or take over a shelter built by other animals. Most often, the den is used for an entire family unit.

African crested porcupines prefer to eat cultivated root crops, fallen fruit, bulbs, bark, and tubers. They will stray from their vegetarian diet when the need arises. Most of the foraging occurs at night and while alone. They travel up to nine miles to find their food. During the day, they rest and prepare for another night of hunting. 

What Sound Do They Make?

African crested porcupines use sound as a defense mechanism. When an attack seems imminent, they shake their quills to create a rattling sound. It might also click its feet and stamp on the ground to appear more menacing.

Group Characteristics

The average female African porcupine has a litter each year after a 110 day gestation period. The female prefers to give birth in the burrow to one or two young. These babies each weigh around two pounds. After a week in the den, they will be ready to venture out. The spines begin to harden and they will wean by six to eight weeks old. By the age of two, they are mature.

How Many Are There?

The IUCN Red List labels the African porcupine as Least Concern with an unknown population. The biggest threat to its population is the human-wildlife contact. As more communities expand, the porcupine and human find themselves in close quarters. They become agricultural pests and are hunted to protect the crops. Humans smoke them out of the burrow and use dogs, nets or spears to kill them.

Sometimes, they are also targeted for their quills. These are considered an African good-luck charm and occasionally used as a musical instrument. Rarely, the porcupine is hunted purely for meat.

Pop Culture

It’s difficult to determine if the African porcupine has been specifically used in today’s media, but the porcupine, in general, has been. One of the well-known uses of this animal was as Ash in the hit children’s movie Sing. She starts as part of a band with her boyfriend but ends up going on her own to shock the competition.

Interesting Facts

The African porcupine’s head is round instead of domed. It has short legs and is equipped with claws. Quill length varies depending on where they are located on the animal’s body. They are usually between one to 12 inches long. They lay flat against the body, but rise when a danger exists. The tips are like fishhooks and challenging to pull out. If the porcupine loses a quill, it’s replaced by a new one.

An African porcupine attacks its enemies in reverse. If the threat doesn’t listen to its warnings, the porcupine runs backward to ram the attacker with the quills. Because the hindquarters of the animal have the most amount of quills, this provides the ideal level of protection. Plus, all of the quills are directed to the rear for maximum penetration.