African Crested Porcupine

African Crested Porcupine (Hystrix cristata) at Wingham Wildlife Park

African Crested Porcupine Natural History

 

Size

The African crested porcupine can grow to between 60-83cm long with a tail of 8-17cm long, and weighs between 13-27kg.

Habitat and Distribution

This is a nocturnal rodent that lives on the ground and is found in the northern coast of Africa south to Tanzania and northern Congo. They are tolerant of a range of habitats including mountains, deserts and forests.

Age

The lifespan of an African crested porcupine in captivity is up to 21 years.

Diet

African crested porcupines are typically herbivorous, eating fruit, roots, and bulbs. Some also gnaw on dry bones.

Groups and Breeding

1-2 young are born after a gestation period of 90-112 days, females typically give birth only once a year, in a grass-lined chamber within a burrow system.  The young are born fully developed, and the spines, which are initially soft harden within a few hours.  The young begin to take solid food within 2 weeks, and are fully weaned between 13-19 weeks after birth.

Threats

The African crested porcupine is often hunted for its meat.  The IUCN Red List classes this species as Least Concern.

Interesting facts

As with all porcupine species, the African crested porcupine is covered in quills which it pushes in to potential threats – it is a myth that they are able to fire their quills out…  Instead they will thrust or back them in to an assailant thus driving them in to the skin and muscle.  The quills detach quite easily and will remain in the skin, which is where the quill firing myth originated.

 

The African Crested Porcupine at Wingham Wildlife Park

 

At Wingham Wildlife Park the African crested porcupine can be found in 2 different colours.  The “normal” colouration includes brown fur covering the whole body, with thick quills (made from keratin, the same material as finger nails and hair) covering the back half of the body (pointing backwards).  These quills are generally a mixture of brown and white colouration in a marbled pattern.  However at our park we also have a white variation of the African crested porcupine where all fur and quills are completely white.  Our individuals do not have pink eyes and as such are not albinos but leucistics (lacking in black pigmentation).

The majority of the diet of our African crested porcupines in the park is made up of fresh vegetables but they also have access to specialist biscuit pellets which give these rodents something hard to chew on, keeping their sharp teeth in check.

Whilst wild African crested porcupines generally give birth to just 1 litter per year due to the breeding season being dictated by the weather and therefore availability of food and water sources, our female often has 2 litters per year – having access to secure shelter, food and drink all year round.