Friday, 6 July 2012

Tigers and Porcupines

There is clearly a love and hate relationship between tigers and porcupines. More than once I witnessed the tigers getting totally fascinated by these thorny little creatures, circling around them with both excitement and caution.  Aren’t they just funny things?? Their quills stick out and they make such pleasant noises too. I don't know what the tigers really think but each time when I saw them in the vicinity of a porcupine, I shudder.

Porcupines are deadly creatures. Their quills are such effective armour and weapon killers that penetrate deep into an enemy's body, causing a painful slow death. We once found a dead springbok with a couple of dozen porcupine quills sticking inside her belly and we could not even pull the quills out.

There is one female porcupine living near my house and some nights, I could hear her eating the barks on the tree, where my cat Sisi loved to stay before she disappeared. I am told that this tree may die sooner or later, due to the good work of the porcupine that has persistently, steadfastly and methodically been gnawing at its bark. Fortunately she couldn't reach very high so the tree should be able to stand longer. 

They are certainly cute creatures, or fascinating, as the tigers also found. The young ones are sweet little things. I once saw two of them with their mother crossing the dirty road in front of me. I was so tempted to go and picking them up, but of course that would be inviting trouble.

I had seen both Cathay and Hulooo at a porcupine at different times. They were all very cautious, never venture that close to get hurt. That “huahua” noise the quills make did seem to have a intimidating effect on the tigers so they always stayed at arm’s length.

However, two weeks ago, JenB was found with porcupine quills stuck in his neck and chest. What had happened between him and the porcupine was anyone’s guess. Most of the quills were gone by next day but two remained on him with the outside sections broken off. Joseph, our vet had to be called in to immobilize JenB and take the remaining parts of the quills out. This was the first time in nearly nine years that we had a porcupine related incidence.

But misfortunes never occur alone.

Yesterday I entered into the 40ha camp where Cathay and her daughter Huwaa and sons Alpha and Beta lodged. None of the tigers was in sight. Over the radio Vivienne informed me that she saw Huwaa chasing a porcupine in the riverine area. I didn’t like the sound of it but there was nothing I could do: I couldn’t see the tigers to distract them nor could I go catch the porcupine. After some time I started the engine of my truck to have a look and see. Not far from the river I saw a tiger licking herself. I couldn’t tell who that was so I looked through my binoculars. To my complete shock the big cat was covered in porcupine quills. Nothing scares me than seeing this!

I radioed our team to contact the vet and Vivienne joined me to have a closer look. It turned out to be Cathay. When she stood up I saw she not only had a number of quills on her chest, belly and leg, her face and legs were also covered with blood. Bloody Hell! Did she kill a porcupine? Why on earth would she do that? Taking such an enormousrisk attacking something that she was always cautious about?


We got her into the adjacent mini camp for monitoring to see how deep the quills got into her, and in case she needs to be sedated for us to remove the quills. Fortunately, none of the quills looked too deep inside her body so we decided to monitor her situation while waiting to hear back from the vet. By the end of the day, most of the 7 or 8 quills dropped off from her walking about. Cathay also didn’t seem disturbed by them and the two remaining quills didn’t look life threatening and may also drop off by themselves so we left her on her own for the night, with her children huddled on the other side of the fence.

Cathay had always been a cat with great motherly and protective instinct. She was also a fantastic but cautious hunter. To undertake such a reckless and dangerous act could only be due to her sense of responsibility as a mother. I could only deduce that Cathay must have intervened to kill the porcupine in order to protect her daughter Huwaa who was chasing it, for fear that her precious daughter might get injured. 

But how on earth did she kill the porcupine? That beast is full of lethal thorns which are known to kill those who dare to get too close. Perhaps Cathay flipped the creature over so she could get to its fragile belly? Whatever she did she proved her amazing ability to hunt, and even greater intelligence than one could have ever imagined.

By end of day today, only one quill remained. Hopefully it will drop off by itself so we don’t have to undertake the always worrisome process of sedation in order to remove the quill.

Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve
3rd July 2012

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