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 an orphaned wild cat 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, I at first thought it looked like a guinea pig, or a cane rat. It was unlike anything I had ever laid eyes on before.
The tiniest porcupine any of us had ever seen, or in fact one seldom seen this young, given their nocturnal lifestyle and love of dens. Which is how this little guy landed up on our door step. The rain had literally washed him and his sibling out of their lair into the gutter. Found alive on the side of the road next to his dead brother a local resident had handed him over to Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, a wildlife orphanage and sanctuary. After recounting the tragic background of his 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 the tiny ball of quills was met with an angry thumping of a foot and rattling of the tail. ‘Thumper’ was named in the first few minutes and he clearly approved, as soon after he decided we were safe enough to approach and cater for his nutritional needs! Tugging on the feeding bottle as if understanding that his life depended upon it, Thumper drank and drank and grew and grew. His diet now includes nuts, fruit, vegetables, grasses, leaves and bark from trees. He no longer thumps his foot but still rattles his tail and bristles his quills, a sound that I can only describe as other worldly. He drags his best mate around by his mouth only sleeping when they are together. A life size monkey, the softest cuddly toy I could find in my kids bedroom to keep him warm on his first night without his family. A creature so sweet with a nature so gentle, holding Thumper he gazes at you with the same love as 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 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 got to nurture them and build the same bonds we share with our own children, would we then be as inclined to shoot and eat them?
*munda – Shona for field
Photo by Sandi