Morning workout keeps zoo porcupine looking sharp


Spiky senior citizen Nolina, an African crested porcupine, stays fit with daily walks

Looking for some fitness pointers? Look no further than Nolina, the African crested porcupine with the admirable workout routine. At nearly 16 years old, Nolina is known for her daily power walks around the Oregon Zoo, which keep her looking sharp and feeling fit in her golden years.

Earlier this year, the normally spry Nolina began to show signs of aging, moving more slowly and taking her time getting up in the morning. To help keep her healthy and active, vet staff recommended a brisk daily walk. Nolina's care staff noticed a change almost immediately.

"She's very energetic these days," said keeper Kristina Smith, who has cared for the porcupine since her arrival here in 2011. "Our walks are a great way to get Nolina out and moving, and they give her new things to see and smell."

Keepers lead Nolina, and sometimes her porcupine pal Sharpie, on power walks through the zoo's indoor rainforest area, passing piranhas, an armadillo, a slender-snouted crocodile and other animals along the way. On longer jaunts, they venture out to visit the nearby flamingos, giraffes and bonteboks.

To encourage Nolina, Smith uses target training and food rewards — apples and sweet potatoes are among her favorite treats. Once she gets moving though, she doesn't need much motivation.

"Porcupines aren't known for speed, but Nolina can move very quickly when she wants to," Smith said. "There are plenty of days when our morning walks turn into jogs because she's having so much fun."

Nolina's walks usually take place early in the morning, but occasionally her care staff wait until the zoo opens to give her a chance to meet new people. If you're lucky enough to meet her out on grounds, don't worry: Contrary to popular belief, porcupines do not "shoot" their quills, and they aren't dangerous to people. Lions, on the other hand, should exercise caution.

"If porcupines are frightened or excited, they will raise and fan out their quills as a defense mechanism," Smith said. "In the wild, they have been known to fend off an entire pride of lions."

African crested porcupines are the largest porcupine species in the world and among the largest rodents in the world. They range from 25 to 30 inches long and can weigh more than 40 pounds. Among their distinguishing features are black-and-white quills on the neck and back that can grow more than a foot long.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 |

Kelsey Wallace | 503-220-5754 |