Cape Porcupine

A Cape porcupine pauses for a drink at a waterhole.

The Cape porcupine is a largely nocturnal, minor species of mammal that occurs across Southern Africa.

Cape porcupine
Scientific Name:
Hystrix africaeaustralis
10 to 24 kg
63 to 81 cm
Mating Season:
Throughout the year


The porcupine species found within the Kruger National Park and within Southern Africa is known as the Cape Porcupine, the largest porcupine species on Earth. They are a large species of rodent covered by black, but mostly white spines, used for protection and can be used to stab attackers in a heated situation. These spines are very sharp and about 5 cm in length. Their build is a stocky one, with characteristically short legs and large bodies. The weight difference between sexes is non-existent, and both range between 10 and 25kg (22 to 55lbs) on average, although they may grow to be as large as 30kg (66 lbs).


They are solidly distributed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, starting as far north as Uganda and parts of Rwanda, and going right down to the parts from which this species received its name from, the Cape Provinces of South Africa. There is virtually no uninhabitable area of land within this broad range for these animals, as the stretch from the eastern shores of Tanzania to the western shores of Angola, and then right down to the south of Africa on both sides and down the middle. Many protected areas, including the Serengeti and the Kruger are found within this range and offer a protected refuge for porcupines. The only area snubbed by these animals is the ever arid Namib Desert, especially along the coast of Namibia.


To the amateur or holiday observer the porcupine might seem rare, but their general shy personalities and introvert lifestyles give us this illusion when in fact they aren’t in any threat to endangerment, not even mentioning extinction. Cape Porcupine populations have shown that they are quiet well at adapting to changes in environment, and causing headaches in many farmers growing crops. Their populations in well managed and truly wild protected areas and game farms are also stable overall and offer reassurance to many conservationists about their presence in ecosystems of the future and the genetic diversity of the species.


Porcupines, in their Southern Africa distribution, are found in any hospitable environment which includes all habitats, although forests are generally excluded although there are exceptions to this statement. The eastern tropical and sub-tropical end of southern Africa, along with the more arid western coast which contains the Namib Desert, the Karoo and fynbos covered land as you approach the south coast all suit the lifestyle and needs of porcupines. They typically find refuge in discarded Aardvark burrows, modifying it slightly before use, or simply putting in the hard labour and digging their own custom burrows. They forage on a variety of plants and their products, and their survival in drier and even desert areas is greatly thanks to the roots of plants on which they like to feed.

Social Organization

Cape Porcupines are another animal species who forms monogamous or single mate pairs that stay together for most of their lives. These pairs live together in a burrow when shelter is needed, and sometimes form part of a group of the same types of pairs in which they forage, raise young and defend themselves against predators. The other pairs may live solitarily. A pair has the same home range in which all essential life activities take place, and also the same small territory within this home range which they will scent mark, guard and defend. Home ranges may overlap with neighboring porcupines, but territories are exclusive and trespassing here will be met by some agitation.

Social Behavior

Obtaining food is the main objective for any wild animal, and porcupines are no different. They do this during the night with only their life partner, even if they do form part of a group. They enjoy bulbs, roots and tree bark and because of this they are widely despised by potato or pumpkin farmers whose crops can be ripped apart by porcupines. Young porcupines stay with and forage with their parents, even into adolescence and sometimes beyond that, until they are able to find a mate of their own. These shelters they live in can sometimes be seen decorated by chewed bones, this is because porcupines like to gnaw on the bones of old carcasses.


Porcupines mate any time during the year when the female of the pair goes into heat for a 9 day period. After they successfully copulate, a plug forms within the female to protect the newly fertilized egg in her uterus. 94 days later this same fertilized egg will emerge from the darkness it inhabited for so long and come out as a newly born porcupine. This may be a litter of up to 3 little porcupines that are born, all eyes open very well equipped to take on a new challenge; survival. They remain concealed in the burrow where they were born for 9 weeks before going out, and only eat solid food after 4 weeks, with their caring mother providing milk before that.

Anti-Predator Behavior

Not many predators are interested in porcupine meat, mainly due the strong protection it has, but those who do may experience quite a performance from the porcupine’s part. They erect their spikes like other animals would do with their hair, to make them seem bigger, and make grunting noises while swaying back and forth to produce rattling sounds with their quills. If an attack is launched, it is frequently met by a stabbing to any soft tissue and some predators may even walk away with nothing but injury. They do this by, quite literally, running into their attackers either sideways or backwards.

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