Saturday, July 11, 2009

Porcupine and Knysna Leopard

Porcupine quills were strewn across a pathway. “It was as if it had been plucked. Quills were everywhere,” remarked a friend who informed me that last week a porcupine had been killed in the remote camera mammal project area.After several days of heavy rain, I went out to investigate with Tuli. Already "leopard" was on my mind, as I could not think of any other predator here which would tackle a porcupine. I found the place. Black and white quills were scattered on the track on the edge of a pine plantation.Imagine my surprise when stepping amongst the young pines when I saw at the base of one tree, several quills protruding from the bark like darts. Vegetation had been disturbed and flattened. Clearly this was where the porcupine had attempted to defend itself from its adversary.Typically when attacked, porcupine will back up or go sideways towards whatever is confronting it, and they have been known to severely injure leopard as well as lion. (Once, with the Adamson lions, my little lion pride attacked a porcupine family, and the young male, Batian, ended up with a face-full of quills, which I helped him remove).I was standing with Tuli where the porcupine had backed up in desperate defence, leaving its lower stouter quills imbedded in the tree. Clearly it had put up a good fight, but I wondered how the leopard had fared.Because of the rain, no tracks could not be seen, but a trail of quills at intervals indicated that the porcupine had been dragged away towards a thicket.This is not the first time that I have known porcupine to be prey for leopard here. During early leopard diet analysis work, scat of one sample was made up almost entirely of quill material, as you will see in the photograph.Generally though, it seems that bushbuck constitute the main prey of these Knysna leopards.