Tag Archives: Porcupines

A visit to Porcupine Camp in Namibia

One of the highlights of a recent trip was a visit to Porcupine Camp situated about 8 kilometers out of Kamanjab on the C40.  It’s not uncommon for farms to specialize in certain animals, but what made this particular spot unique was the fact that their speciality was porcupines.  These unusual animals are not commercially bred, but have been attracted to the area by a nightly smorgasbord of food that draws them from all directions of the farm.  Their delightful hostess, Katrin Haenisch, has an obvious passion for her porcupines and she joins her guests in their wonder and awe at the numbers that come to visit her each evening.

First to arrive

We were fortunate enough to spend three nights camping in her lovely mopani-treed bush camp, and for a nominal initial fee we were allowed to attend the porcupine feeding every evening.  Katrin has a small concrete area in front of the farmhouse which she uses as the feeding stage.  Before the sun goes down she throws pellets or vegetables and porridge on this area and then waits for her hungry guests to arrive.  We were extremely excited when we heard a “swish swish” of quills announcing the arrival of her first guests.  Two large porcupines shuffled into the spotlight and proceeded to gobble up food as if their lives depended on it.  It wasn’t long before more wandered in and joined in the fray for food that lasted for up to two hours.

Mmmm nice veges

Porcupines (Hystrix africaeaustralis) are the largest rodents in our region – in fact they look like enormous guinea pigs wearing quill skirts!  When in danger or threatened in any way, their quills stand upright for protection.  It’s a myth that they shoot quills out at their enemies – what usually happens is that the quills stick into the attacker and are released from the porcupine’s skin.  These quills can cause problems because wounds then tend to fester.  Lions, cheetahs, caracals and leopards prey (at their peril) on porcupines.

Just some of the many visitors

On our first night about nineteen porcupines came to feed.  We thought it couldn’t get any better than that, but we were wrong, as on our last night at the camp no less than twenty-five of them came in.  Numbers like this are astounding considering that they are solitary wild animals.  It did cause some quarreling about the food, with some of them side-swiping each other to shove them out of the way.  With all those quills around we wondered if they ever poked each others eyes out and, sure enough, we did see some evidence of injury with one receiving a wound to its face.

Ouch, those quills can hurt!

The quills are made of keratin and are different thicknesses, with some being long and thin and others fatter and sturdier.  The rest of the body is covered in glossy black hair.  Long white hairs form a “mowhawk-type” of hairstyle on their heads, giving them the appearance of punks or “cool dudes”.  We found the babies especially sweet, looking the perfect little miniatures of their mothers.  Porcupines have up to three babies after a gestation period of about three months.  Females are larger, weighing up to 24 kgs as opposed to males that reach up to 19 kgs.  They can live for up to twenty years.

The favourite gets an apple

Porcupine Camp is one of Namibia’s absolute gems and should be inundated with visitors for the sheer uniqueness of the porcupines.  It should be on every visitor’s “to do” list and we cannot stress enough what a fabulous experience it is seeing so many of these amazing creatures in one spot.

Getting stuck in

 

Two porcupines and a bottle of red wine

I often wonder if folks who look at photographs of animals and birds have any concept of the patience and endurance required by photographers to get their amazing shots.  Until Rob and I started photographing birds and animals we totally under-estimated the difficulties involved in getting most creatures to sit still for a second, never mind a few minutes while we get our cameras poised and in focus.  We know that birds have an area around their bodies that is their ‘danger or comfort’ zone and if we enter that zone they are off, but animals also seem to have a sixth sense about us wanting to take their photos in the first place and then they make themselves scarce!

Bateleur

It took three years for Rob to get a decent photo of a Bateleur

One thing is for sure, the animal or bird that you are desperately wanting to photograph, will put in an appearance when you are least expecting it and when you are least prepared for it!  The irony is often that people who aren’t keen to see any particular animals or birds, get first class sightings without any effort whatsoever.  I heard a classic story related by a tour guide whilst I was queuing up to enter Kruger National Park.  He said that he had been a guide for 27 years and had always wanted to see an elusive pangolin, when one unexpectedly put in an appearance one afternoon while he was doing a tour.  As these are nocturnal animals and quite rare, he was over the moon – while the tourists wondered what all the fuss was about.  We will feel like he did when we eventually (if we ever) get a photo of an aardvark or a pangolin.

Black mongoose - very rare sighting

A rare animal is very gratifying to photograph

Sometimes the best laid plans for a photo shoot can go horribly awry, although they do have their upside as well.  Take for example our recent quest to photograph a pair of porcupines that make nightly forays to the bottom of a friend’s garden for a meal of left-over veges, pumpkin or watermelon.  We bought an enormous, thick-skinned blue pumpkin to lure them in for a photo-shoot and Trish, our hostess, went to great pains to peg the pumpkin down so that they didn’t carry it off into the night.  She also set up an infra-red and other lights for us and so all we had to do was set up our cameras and wait patiently for the porcupines to put in an appearance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This fellow was coming in for a meal at Erongo Wilderness Lodge

Fortunately I had the foresight to take along a good bottle of cabinet sauvignon wine to help while away the hours and we settled in for our long wait.  Trish is a good conversationalist and we soon learnt of her incredible life in Madagascar and elsewhere in Africa.  (That’s one of the amazing things about the people you meet in Namibia – they have mostly lead such interesting lives and are widely traveled).

Needless to say, the wine glasses emptied, we mellowed and the porcupines decided to stay away.  At an embarrassingly late hour we took our leave of Trish, went home and settled in to bed, only to receive an sms to say that our guests had finally arrived for their meal.  Damn!!!!  The next day Trish sent us photos of two enormous porcupines dining happily on their blue pumpkin.  (Unfortunately I can’t use these pictures as our policy is only to use our own photographs on this website.)   Disappointing though it was, we will be doubly pleased when we do eventually get the photos that we’re after – and who knows, perhaps it will take a few more bottles of that delicious red wine and good company before that happens.

So next time you see a brilliant animal or bird photograph think about that poor photographer’s liver! (Hic!)

Rob and I would like to wish all our readers a very blessed and merry Christmas.