Every year we seem to get one animal that steals the show. Last year it was Silver, the melanistic red fox who had been purchased as a pet from a fur farm, passed between a few different people, and finally brought to Wildwoods when it became clear that tamed wild animals make bad pets. Silver was just a pup when he arrived and was the cutest thing anyone had ever seen. He looked like a puppy, but fluffier, played like a puppy, but rougher, and smelled like… well, he smelled like a fox, which is to say, horrible. But staff and volunteers at Wildwoods, and all our online followers couldn’t get enough of him. Since he was non-releasable, he went to an education facility in Canada who had a lonely female silver fox in need of a companion. Today, they are fast friends and spend their time in one another’s company.
2017 is yet still young but we have another star non-releasable animal: a baby porcupine. She had been found alone, and after a period of observation and consultation with experts, it was decided that the length of time she’d been on her own was troubling, and she should come to Wildwoods.
One look and it’s easy to understand why her photos and videos have garnered more likes, loves, and shares on Facebook and Instagram than any other animal we’ve ever had. She’s got jet-black, watery eyes that half-shut when she’s happily eating her formula from the bottle, a scruffy black coat that gives her a slightly unkempt but playful look, and the contented squeaks she produces when she’s having her snout gently stroked would melt the heart of the toughest, meanest Grinch.
The latin name for porcupine means, “quill pig,” baby porcupines are called porcupettes, and a mother-baby family unit is called a prickle. Yup, it seems that everything about porcupines is adorable. The exception to this may be their quills. As mentioned before, porcupettes are born with quills, but they are soft at birth and harden about an hour later. Porcupines can’t shoot their quills, contrary to popular belief, but the quills do easily embed themselves into the face of any attacker that hasn’t heeded the porcupine’s warnings. Eventually, our little one will have up to 30,000 quills, each with microscopic scales that lie backward, making them very difficult and painful to remove from the flesh of the porcupine’s predators.
There are 12 species of porcupine in the world, but only one lives in the U.S. and Canada – the North American Porcupine. They’re excellent climbers, with long claws and a tail with stiff bristles on the underside to help with grip. They’re not terribly good at staying in trees, though, and commonly fall out. They’re good swimmers and will occasionally venture out into ponds to go after their favorite treat: water lilies. Porcupines are strict herbivores and normally will munch on bark, fruit, tree buds, leaves and other green plant matter. In the summer their diets are high in potassium, causing them to lose important sodium. This makes them crave salt (water lilies are high in sodium) and in populated areas this means they may try to munch on brake lines, tires, or other things that have been coated in road salt over the winter.
Porcupettes typically are not weaned off mother’s milk until 3 months of age, but can survive on their own, foraging for vegetation, at two weeks if they have to. Our little porcupette was just a couple days old and would not have survived on her own, which is why we made the decision to bring her in, even though it meant she would not be releasable. Porcupines are a species that will habituate (become used to, and dependent on humans) quickly when they’re young, so we knew that pulling her out of her habitat would mean she would never be releasable. She’ll go to an educational facility, like Silver the Fox did, and in the meantime she is spending her time getting plenty of love from all of us at Wildwoods.