With an oversized nose that feels like a marshmallow when booped, the prehensile-tailed porcupine stands out in the porcupine family. Like all the other 56 species of porcupines, the prehensile-tailed porcupine has quills for defense against predators, but few species are as skilled at climbing. Fifteen of the 16 New World porcupine have a prehensile tail. Unlike some of their cousins, this species can grasp and hold on to branches with all four feet as well as their tail. Like a fifth hand, they can wrap their tail around a branch and lean out for that last piece of fruit. In the wild, they also eat leaves, flowers, shoots and roots. Here at the Zoo, their diet consists primarily of primate biscuits (despite being rodents, not primates), fruits, vegetables and leafy greens.
Some of their favorite foods are banana, corn, nuts, and – probably their top favorite – coconut. The fact that these animals are so food motivated make them easy candidates for training, especially targeting and crating. Target training is when you present something – it can be a stick with an object on the end or even an empty hand - and if the animal touches it, they get rewarded. Porcupines quickly figure out that if they touch their target, they get a piece of coconut. When an animal learns how to properly target, it makes it much easier to direct them to where you need them. For instance, our male porcupine Quilliam needed to move to a different enclosure that was less than thirty feet away. Instead of putting him in a crate and carrying him, we opened the doors for both enclosures and used the target to direct him to his new habitat, letting him walk over at his own free will and rewarding him every few feet with a piece of coconut.
For longer journeys, Quilliam and our female Piper, are also trained to voluntarily enter a crate and allow themselves to be locked in. With the help of their target, they quickly learned that entering the crate means a treat is soon to follow. Because the act of crating is a familiar and rewarding process, this makes our porcupines great ambassador animals for the Education department and can be easily transported for visits to schools, events and more. You might be lucky enough to meet Quilliam, Piper, and maybe one day, their new porcupette (yes, that is the actual name for a baby porcupine).