A Porcupine Who Knows What He Wants

Purcupine laying on a wooden platform

Below is a fascinating example of porcupine intelligence. The idea might be strange to many of us, but when you think of it, all animals must have an adaptable intelligence in order to survive. In this case, a porcupine communicating his needs to a human. But not just any human—specifically to Heather, whose ongoing relationship with Teddy has built familiarity and trust, which opens pathways to communication. It was Heather he turned to in his need, and it is familiarity which helps us see the more subtle communications we might otherwise miss. – Susan

Changes in weather affect our animals at Earthfire just as it affects animals in the wild. Some look forward to the changes while others do not. The wolves are perfectly content in their gardens, whether in the sun, rain, or snow. Our bears, on the other hand, prefer perfect summer conditions—sunny, warm but not hot, and a light breeze. If it’s raining or too windy, the bears immediately return to the safety of their enclosures or refuse to go out to their gardens altogether. Our Resident Porcupine, Teddy, has his own adamant feelings about weather changes. Porcupines are native to our area and are used to our winter conditions, but Teddy prefers to stay dry, protected, and toasty warm in the comfort of his den box.

As I write this, our mountains received their first dusting of snow the previous night. While it wasn’t cold enough to snow down here on the valley floor, it was an unseasonably chilly and wet morning, an abrupt change from 65 and sunny the day before. Our final visitors of the season had arrived for a tour, and I led them into the small (in size only, not in importance) animal area. We stopped to visit Teddy first. He was lounging inside his insulated den box, hiding from the elements, but came out when he heard our voices.

Porcupines do not move fast, and Teddy is no exception. He moved slowly and deliberately. Upon reaching his front porch, he stood slowly up on his hind legs and looked at the group of us, but primarily at me. While looking me dead in the eyes, he slowly and gently raised his front right paw over his head and tapped his claws on the metal frame of the heat lamp hanging directly over the entrance to his den box. The heat lamp was not on, but had been installed in anticipation of needing it overnight in the near future. As he touched the metal frame of his heat lamp, he continued staring at me, his focus unwavering. I immediately realized it wasn’t an act of aggression, mischief, or silliness. He was communicating with me. He is a Very Smart Porcupine, so he knows that the warm glow of the red bulb above the entrance to his comfy den box helps him stay even warmer. He was informing me that he wanted or needed his heat lamp turned on—and of course, that’s precisely what I did.

I realize that very few people are fortunate enough to establish relationships with wild animals the way we can at Earthfire. Given how intimately I know Teddy’s moods and behaviors, it does make me wonder how many times we humans unknowingly miss signals from animals, plants, and trees that are asking for our help. Being open to the possibility of non-verbal communication across species enhances our sense of community with our fellow beings. It might inspire us to act on the understanding by leaving enough habitat for animals to survive. It might move us to find a better balance of protecting land with our human need for homes and buildings.

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