One late night in November after a heavy downpour a loud hoot alerted us to the vehicle at the gate. Out of the dark and into the bright headlights appeared Trish from Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust armed with a large cardboard box and cheeky grin on her face. After keeping orphaned wild cats alive my mum had become known for her nursing abilities. With a mischievous twinkle in her eye Trish gently opened the box. Our necks craned to see what was inside, at first glance it resembled a guinea pig, or a cane rat, but yet unlike anything we had ever laid eyes on.
The tiniest porcupine any of us had ever seen, or in fact one seldom seen so young, given their nocturnal lifestyle and love of dens. Which explains how this little one landed up on our door step. The rain had literally washed her and her sibling out of their lair into the gutter. Found alive on the side of the road next to her dead brother a local resident contacted Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, a wildlife orphanage and sanctuary. After recounting the tragic background of her week old life Trish handed over a tin of milk formula and feeding bottle with miniature teat then swiftly departed with a resounding “Good luck and thank you!”
Our first attempt to hold this tiny ball of quills was met with an angry thumping of a foot and rattling of the tail. ‘Nungu‘ (Shona for porcupine) was named in the first few minutes and she clearly approved, as soon after she decided we were safe enough to approach and cater for her nutritional needs! Tugging on the feeding bottle as if understanding that her life depended upon it, Nungu drank and drank and grew and grew. Her diet now includes nuts, fruit, vegetables, grasses, leaves and bark from trees. She no longer thumps her foot but still rattles her tail and bristles her quills, a sound that I can only describe as other worldly. She drags her best mate around by her mouth only sleeping when they are together. A life size monkey, the softest cuddly toy I could find in my kids bedroom to keep her warm on her first night without her family. A creature so unexpectedly gentle with an inquisitive nature, holding Nungu as she gazed up at you with the total trust of a newborn child.
My Dad, an ex-farmer, guiltily confesses that porcupines are considered vermin in the agricultural world, eating their way through maize fields in their effort to survive. Shot in their 1000s in Zimbabwe by night watchmen patrolling ‘mundas‘, one wonders how many helpless baby babies died in their dens from starvation after their mothers took to the fields to forage for food required to produce the rich breast milk for their off spring.
If we got to know each and every animal that we eat so readily, if we took care of them and built the same bonds we share with our beloved pets, would we then be as inclined to shoot and eat them?
*munda – Shona for field
Photo by Sandi