There are many recorded instances of lions and even canny leopards dying because they could not remove quills from their facial flesh after unwisely tackling a porcupine. It is not the quills that kill, it’s infection and, because the injuries can make hunting and eating difficult, starvation.
Yet lions and leopards still take them on, especially in times of hunger. Their trick is to get a paw under the porky then flip it on to its back and sink fangs into its exposed, unprotected belly before it can right itself. There are no quills down there.
There is an ancient belief that porcupines can shoot quills like arrows. It’s an old wives’ tale. It probably arose from one of its most effective defence techniques, whipping its tail backwards with great speed and force so the thick quills mounted there strike deep into the attacker unwise enough to get too close.
We had no such intentions. Our local porkies learned soon enough that our gardens were an easy source of food and they turned up uninvited, a couple of times even before the sun had set.
One evening when were having supper together at Kathy’s home. We sat around her huge table with a sweeping view through the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors.
Three porcupines appeared in the light from an outside lamp illuminating the lawn and stoep. They marched straight up to the glass and stared as if saying “And what about us?” But for the glass they would have come right in: three pairs of beady black eyes, two the parents, the third their offspring.
We decided to strike a compromise and place food outside from time to time, though not too often. Now we can stand quite near on the other side of the sliding doors when they feed and they seem to have got the message and don’t almost knock at the front door.
They might well make good pets . . . if there was a way to get around the barriers of spikes and the flea world that must flourish underneath.