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Elderly porcupine is 20 years old and still looking sharp

June 24, 2024, 1:18 p.m.
Topic: Animal well-being
Porcupine Nolina stands in front of a harbor seal

Spiky senior citizen Nolina, an African cape porcupine, turns 20 today at Oregon Zoo

Summer’s here, and people looking to get in shape for the season could take some tips from Nolina, an elderly Oregon Zoo porcupine whose fitness routine is on point. This spiky senior citizen, who turns 20 today, is known for taking morning walks, which have kept her looking sharp in her golden years. 

In the wild, African cape porcupines seldom live past the age of 15, and when Nolina reached that age five years ago, caregivers saw signs that she was beginning to slow down. To help keep her healthy and active, zoo veterinary staff recommended a brisk daily walk.

“Her walks are shorter now, and she’s not as quick as she used to be, but she still gets around pretty well,” keeper Kristina McMahon said. “For her age, she’s doing amazing.”

Care staff use target training and food rewards as motivation for Nolina — her favorite snacks are corn on the cob, apples and sweet potatoes. Once she gets moving though, treats are beside the point.

On trips through the zoo’s indoor rainforest area, Nolina passes a two-toed sloth, piranhas, a slender-snouted crocodile and other animals. Sometimes, she’ll venture out to visit the nearby flamingos.

African cape porcupines are the largest porcupine species on the planet and among the world’s largest rodents. They can grow up to 2.5 feet in length and weigh more than 40 pounds, with formidable black-and-white quills that are sometimes more than a foot long.

Contrary to legend, porcupines do not “shoot” their quills, McMahon said — but they will raise and fan them out as a defense if they are frightened or excited. Wild porcupines have been known to fend off an entire pride of lions.