Cape Porcupine

Hystrix africaeustralis

Order: Rodentia

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Very good diggers; need concrete or chain link under dirt to allow digging behavior but prevent escape. Live in burrows; need a nestbox or cave. Expect chewing on any chewable surfaces. Food and water bowls should be metal or concrete. Branches or small logs for chewing are necessary for tooth conditioning – they especially like to strip bark, so any trees or bushes should have wire placed around the trunks to 2.5-3 feet off the ground. They also like to swim, so a shallow pool is an excellent addition to an enclosure. Otherwise, they may splash around in their water bowl and get it dirty.

Diet Requirements

  • Herbivore pellets, root vegetables, some leafy browse.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Thin skin that tears easily. Voluntary injections can be trained for the shoulder area – hip is not accessible. Can have sensitive stomachs.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • For enrichment, digging and foraging opportunities are important, as well as chewing. Paper bags and boxes can be given to tear apart as long as no material is ingested. Program animals can be taken for walks.
  • A figure-eight harness is a good choice. Train a mark behavior on a stump and train putting the harness over the head, pulling out the crest from underneath, tightening it around the neck, and cinching the end under the chest.
  • Manners are very important. The porcupine should walk next to you without surging ahead and cutting you off. If they do, turn around and walk the other way.
  • Walking up a ramp onto a table, stump, mark, or into a cart is a very useful behavior.


Colony or Breeding Management


Individual Identification


Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

  • They are low to the ground, so getting them up high where people can see them is a good way to present. This could be on a stage, or on a table or box. Porcupines can easily climb a ramp or small stairs.
  • A “circle” behavior is fun so that everyone can get a good look at their quills.
  • Training them to stand with front paws on a mark and stay there for a few seconds gives people the chance to take photos of the porcupine or to stand near it for a photo.
  • Guests should never be placed right next to the porcupine, because it can flare its quills to the side. Guests can approach the head if the porcupine is comfortable with that.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Make sure the porcupine will walk nicely beside you without cutting you off.
  • Never get trapped in close quarters with the porcupine.
  • Quills are erected when the porcupine is feels threatened, nervous, or aggressive. Tail-rattling is the next level, and is acceptable, but should not be reinforced. Foot-stomping is next, then vocalization and charging backwards or sideways. Porcupines will bite. The handler should have a calm and resilient demeanor, and not be nervous, because porcupines will try to scare you, and then they know they have the upper hand. Calm and consistent handling is necessary, and not letting the porcupine get away with things like cutting you off when walking.


Potential Messaging

  • They don’t shoot their quills.
  • Cell Phones – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Congo region and the island of Madagascar are extensively mined for coltan and other minerals that go into cell phones, tablets, and computers. Natural habitat, frequently in areas that are legally protected, is lost for wildlife, trees and topsoil scraped away. In addition, toxins from discarded electronics leach out of local landfills and contaminate waterways here at home. Please ask guests to think twice before replacing their electronic devices and to recycle their old ones when they do.

Acquisition Information


Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Southern part of Africa. Grasslands and croplands.

Physical Description

A large porcupine, up to 50-60 pounds but more commonly 30-45, closely related to the African crested porcupine (Hystrix cristata), with which its range somewhat overlaps. Dark brown to black. Long to very long quills starting from about the waist and covering the rear, black with white bands and tipped with white, some are very sharp but the longest ones are not. These quills can be erected, usually forming a sort of tutu, but can go past vertical and slant forward towards the head. A patch of white quills above the tail, and a white crescent moon “necklace” on the chest. A long, erectile crest of hair on the back of the head and neck, predominantly white along most of the distal end of the hair. Tail has wide, hollow quills that are used as a rattle.

Life Cycle



Lives in burrows during the day, forages at night. Often lives in mated pairs with offspring, but forages individually.

Threats and Conservation Status

Not endangered.

Did you know…

  • Largest porcupine in the world, 2nd or 3rd largest rodent behind capybara and beaver.
  • Do not shoot their quills, but quills are loosely attached and fall out easily. Quills of this species do not have barbed ends.
  • Quills are a modified hair.
  • Quills float, making porcupines very buoyant.
  • Quills have a brightening agent in the white parts to make them stand out more at night, and are reported to glow under black light.
  • Incisors are coated with multiple layers of enamel on the front surface only, whose fibers are arranged crosswise like a piece of plywood. This makes the front surface very strong and hard. The softer dentine behind wears away more quickly, producing a chisel-shaped tooth ideal for gnawing. The enamel is a yellow-orange color because it contains iron salts.
  • Can be a nuisance by digging up crops and killing trees by stripping bark.


Ruva 1st show (3).JPG
Using a target pole to train a young porcupine.


Ruva 1st show (2).JPG
Working a young female Cape porcupine in her first show.


Porcupine photo setup with trainer posing with guest – porcupine is surprised that trainer is on the wrong side (normally trainer would stand near photographer). Quills are up in startlement but position on box and mark is correct.


Contributors and Citations

  • San Diego Zoo.
  • Barthelmess, Erika L. (2006). “Hystrix africaseaustralis.” Mammalian Species: Number 788: pp. 1-7.
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounter

Top Photo: By Steven Lek – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,