Prickly characters! 

Porcupines are prickly! They have about 30,000 hollow quills on their body, which are made of keratin, the same stuff your fingernails and hair are made of. Cape porcupines have the longest quills of all five species of porcupine and shedding quills is a normal process, just as it is with standard hair. New quills will start to emerge within a few days of another falling out. The hair on their back, sides and tail is soft.   

You may have heard a rumour that porcupines can shoot their quills like spears – and although this is incorrect, porcupines will raise them when they are threatened to make themselves look bigger and threatening. Sometimes they will then turn and run backwards into their attackers, embedding their spines into their flesh. Ouch!  

Cape porcupine are usually nocturnal, sleeping in burrows during the day and foraging at night.


Our prickle of porcupines has grown!

Cape porcupine Alika has caught the eye of newcomer Bruce, and as Carnivore Keeper Kristin says, “It was love at first sight”.

At the Zoo 

A group of porcupine is called a prickle. The ‘prickle’ live in a shared habitat with a mob of meerkats. Porcupine are nocturnal so they have various day-time shelters for sleeping, as well as burrows and their dens. This means they can sometimes be hard to spot. In January 2020, our prickle of porcupines became the proud parents of the first porcupettes bred at Auckland Zoo.  

Caring for our animals – health and enrichment 

Their chisel-like incisor teeth grow continuously, so plenty of browse and logs enable them to sharpen their teeth by gnawing on the bark. Bones are also provided for added phosphorous and calcium. 

Porcupines are omnivores, mainly eating roots, bulbs, fruits, berries and occasional insects and small vertebrates. 

As a great indicator of health, it’s important that animal weights are checked regularly by our keepers – the porcupines are encouraged onto the scales by leaving a trail of their favourite foods, such as delicious kumara.

Prickly and perfectly healthy: Ticking off a mini milestone

Great news! Auckland Zoo is home to porcupettes.

Weighing baby porcupines takes careful manoeuvring on the part of our carnivore keepers (note the heavy gloves and tea towel) so that none of their gradually hardening quills are in the way.

Other African Species