NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Don’t let their cuteness fool you, Nashville Zoo’s new triplet porcupettes are prickly and rambunctious.
“We have one boy and two girls named Tommy, Angelica, and Dill Prickles,” Nate Morris Contact Lead Keeper, continues, “From the Rugrats.”
They are the second litter born to parents, Jake Quillenhaal and Macaulay Quillkin. Each has a different color paint on their tail to help zoo keepers tell them apart.
“Typically this species has a collar around their neck similar to our thumb print. It’s very different per individual, but it’s hard to see right now,” says Morris.
Porcupettes grow fast, gaining about 20 grams a day.
“When they’re born, they’re ready to go. They’re very precocial and ready to be in the world,” he explains. “We have stairs in their holding that goes down to their exhibit and within four hours they were going down those stairs.”
Morris has been working with porcupines at the zoo for five years. These ones are Cape porcupines from Southern Africa.
“I love porcupines. There are 24 species of them, and I’ve worked with six of them.” He adds, “They are super fun.”
Morris and other keepers hope these kids will become ambassador animals, just like their dad, Jake.
“Their dad walks around the park right now with a harness and leash, and hopefully, we’re going to get them to that point and get them comfortable going to special events,” says Morris.
Dad porcupines also play an important role in training their babies for natural behaviors.
Morris explains the parental relations, “Mom is just food. She doesn’t do anything. Dad is the one that teaches them everything, very defensive, and coaching with the kids.”
Morris calls it mimic training, “One animal does something and another sees it; they pick it up. Dad does everything with them, for them, and teaches them.”
In this particular case, Morris says the porcupettes were fighting too much over food, so they had to be separated from mom early and taken to the HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center for care. But, they’re back in their holding and will soon rejoin Dad.
“As of right now, they are on four bottles a day,” says Morris. “While we are open in the park, we bring one ounce into the Critter Encounter – in one of our side yards – and feed them that bottle there for that socialization with the public, that comfortability, that desensitization.”
Soon, they could be going on walks around the zoo or showing up during educational programs.
“It’s good to start this early because it sets them up for success. If they are more comfortable with human interaction, then they’re going to be less stressed out and be healthier,” says Morris.
Currently, keepers are focusing on training with food. Morris demonstrates with Tommy Prickles, the only boy.
“He’s about 3 pounds right now. Females get up to 60 pounds and are the second largest rodent species and males get up to 40 to 45 pounds,” Morris says.
Porcupines are considered a prey species, and their quills help them fend off predators in the wild. So, as you can imagine, interacting with this prickly bunch can be difficult.
“They’re personality and challenging nature, having quills for defense, they have a very defensive animal,” Morris continues, “During training breaking down those barriers and building a relationship is very rewarding.”
Training also helps the staff take better care of the animals during routine check ups. “If we train all of them to do it voluntarily, it makes it a whole lot easier.”
While these nocturnal animals aren’t endangered, they are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) that helps keep the population diverse.
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