When the baby porcupine arrived at the wildlife orphanage, he was the size of half a loaf of bread. His quills had hardened, but the porcupine was probably only a week old.
A local potato farmer in Hoedspruit, South Africa, had caught the baby porcupine in a trap, after the animal had eaten some of the farmer’s crops. Instead of killing the porcupine (as many farmers in South Africa do), he contacted Daktari Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage, a place that cares for orphaned and injured wildlife, and teaches local children to care for animals and their environment. The porcupine was too young to survive on his own, so Ian and Michele Merrifield, co-directors of Daktari, offered to adopt the porcupine, whom they appropriately named Spikey.
Ian and Michele had never cared for a porcupine before, so it was a steep learning curve for them. “He had to be bottle-fed,” Ian tells The Dodo, “but we had to estimate what he would need. We tried to do research online but there wasn’t a lot of information. We used mammals that we cared for before as a baseline and we added egg yolk and cream to normal cow milk and we added protexin, which is a bacteria that they need to aid in digestion.”
Spikey initially just took milk, but as he got older, he ate maize porridge with chopped up fruit and vegetables. “He really liked eating,” says Ian. “Eating and sleeping were his whole life.”
He also loved cuddles and pets! Even though most of Spikey’s body was covered in quills, he had soft, bristly fur at his front, under his arms, and on his face. “The volunteers would stoke his belly, under the arms, and behind his very human-like ears,” says Ian. “Spikey would jump on their lap and nuzzle their neck.”
A year later, Spikey was the size of a 5-gallon bucket, and Ian and Michele decided it was time for him to return to the wild. “We just decided he would be happier free, and if he had any problems, he could come back for food. He still does come back! We aren’t sure if it’s because he needs the food or just enjoys our company.”
The biggest surprise for the Merrifields wasn’t that Spikey came back for food — it was that Spikey returned with two babies. He turned out to be a she.
“We’d thought Spikey was definitely a male, so we were a bit surprised when she showed up with babies,” says Ian.
The babies were a little bit nervous around the Merrifields and their team of volunteers, and usually stayed around the back of the buildings at Daktarti, rather than coming into the Merrifields’ “lapa,” or outdoor living space. But Ian believes Spikey was showing her babies off. “It’s wonderful seeing Spikey live a full life in the wild, and having a family of her own,” says Ian. “I feel like a very proud parent.”
Daktari relies on public donations to run their bush school and wildlife orphanage. You can support Daktari by donating here.
You can also get more involved with Daktari by volunteering as a caretaker and teacher. Find more information about Daktari’s volunteer program here.
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