A gasping moment.
A double-tap on Lynn’s arm.
Grabbing my camera.
Slamming on the Gator’s brakes.
Climbing through a fence.
The pursuit began through prickly pear and mesquite trees.
But for what?
Since 2015 I have been monitoring the trees and ground for live porcupines on 3 Rivers Foundation conservation lands. Every once in a while, one will make an appearance on of my camera traps. But that is rare. I have consistently seen the bark they eat on a variety of trees and noting they do not like black willow trees.
What our eyes saw – first live porcupine sighting on the lands I have been monitoring since 2015. My heart started racing and I became jubilant.
The first time I saw a live porcupine occurred in 2006 on the Mallet Ranch Headquarters. A baby porcupine stared down at us from a 100-year-old cottonwood tree. The setting sun cast a golden cast glow upon it. My friend Ginny and I stood in awe watching it for minutes that seemed to never end and then it backed down out of the tree. A few days later we chased the mom under one of the houses. That’s when I learned that porcupines do not have the capability to throw their quills. A myth that I had been taught.
The next encounter occurred in Bailey County with Sammie and Eileen. The porcupine ran in front of the truck and across an open field. I got a really good butt shot of it.
The momentous encounter I have ever had happened while hiking Mule Deer Draw at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge a few years later. Walking down into a hackberry grove I paused under a tree and something told me to look up. When I did my eyes locked onto the eyes of a porcupine who had no fear and genially looked back at me and then went back to slumbering. My presence did not bother him nor the clicking of my camera nor me talking to it.
This November 2020 wild encounter I chased after this porcupine for two main reasons I wanted to see where it went. If I could identify that then I would be able to protect its home a lot better. Yes – I wanted to get a better photograph of it. It climbed a small hackberry tree very slowly and came to rest on a top branch. It waited while Lynn and I took our photos and yes while I talked to it. I really do not know where I picked up talking to the animals from – it might have been from Ginny. If so then thank you for making me more appreciative and weirder.
This porcupine babe lumbered through the mesquites and prickly pears at a pretty good clip. It never made a sound. Given the recent wild animal rehabilitation videos, I have been seeing of porcupines hearing it make a sound would have made this experience more incredible. Simply, they are endearing. Plus, it was not threatened by us or we would have smelled its pungent odor immediately.
Why the excitement over this large rodent?
They are rare to see at any time of day. They are vegetarians. Porcupines evolved with the forests and help with forest and land replenishment. The trees damaged by porcupines provide critical habitat for other species. The broken limbs, berries, and seeds become part of the nutrient cycling essential to ecosystem health. You can also regard them as nature’s tree pruners that you do not have to pay for. Their nibbling and chewing keep the ecosystem healthier. Additionally, the thinning of higher branches allows sunlight to penetrate to the areas below the trees and give the understory rays of light, increasing the diversity of plant life in the forest.
Another really important fact when a porcupine has babies, they are called porcupettes and usually only have one baby born each year. Making them slow reproducers. Their quills harden about an hour after birth.
Lynn and I let the porcupine get back to its wandering. We were so thankful we stayed this evening. We later saw it along the creek foraging.
We should not have to comprehend porcupines to appreciate them. All wildlife is essential for a healthy ecosystem, except feral hogs. Ugh!
Thankful, that I now know I can run and dodge prickly pear if I need to. Thankful, for friends like Ginny and Lynn who love porcupines as much as I. Thankful, for porcupines.