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Cape porcupettes born at Franklin Park Zoo

On October 6, Penelope, a 4-year-old Cape porcupine, gave birth to two porcupettes – each weighing just under a pound at birth. The Cape porcupettes’ birth is a first for this species at Franklin Park Zoo.

Porcupettes are born with their eyes open and are up and moving immediately after birth. Their quills are soft at first, but soon harden. The porcupettes, who were first observed nibbling on solid food when only a week old, sometimes try to share with their parents while they are eating. Penelope and her mate Kiazi (dad) let them share which, in the wild, would help the porcupettes learn what type of food is safe to eat. Male and female porcupines take an active role in raising their young.

“Both Kiazi and Penelope have been perfect parents,” said Christine Bartos, Assistant Curator of Hooves and Horns at Franklin Park Zoo. “This is Penelope’s first litter, and she has been a wonderful mom. As with any birth, we are closely monitoring the mom and babies, and so far have been very encouraged by their progress. While it’s very difficult to determine the sex of porcupettes, we believe that we have one male and one female. The female is the larger one, and as is typical for this species, she is feistier. She stomped her feet and rattled her little quills at us from the first day.”

The porcupettes are currently bonding with their parents off exhibit. When they are ready to make their exhibit debut, we will update our Facebook page and our website.

Zoo New England participates in the Cape Porcupine Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered, and enhance conservation of these species in the wild. Bartos manages the Cape Porcupine SSP and was recently recognized by AZA for her 15 years of service. This birth is the result of a recommended breeding between Penelope and Kiazi.

Cape porcupines are nocturnal, and, unlike new world porcupines, they're exclusively terrestrial. They may be found in small family groups, but they tend to forage alone and to follow the same paths searching for food. They'll modify natural shelters, such as caves, crevices or burrows created by other animals. If no suitable shelter is available, they will dig their own burrow. In the wild, these animals can be found in a variety of habitats in southern Africa.

Contrary to popular belief, porcupines do not shoot their quills when startled or attacked. When alarmed, the quills are erected and the porcupine puts its back toward the threat for maximum protection. Porcupines shake their specially-modified, hollow quills, known as “rattle quills.” As protection, the quills are shed upon impact, so they become imbedded in an attacker.