Vilma and Me!

Wilma although pronounced as Vilma – The North American Porcupine – my image.

Series 1Episode 2

Years ago, l used to have in my possession close onto 10K of digital personal photographs that were of animals l had reared, bred or worked with and l entrusted those to a person l used to know – who was going to move the files into a DVD disc for me and sadly it went haywire for some reason – l don’t know why, but all of the photographs were lost!

Thankfully l still have my memories, but l was deeply saddened at this loss, because they were simply unreplaceable. In addition to that l also had a small quantity of photographs that were in cache in my old Facebook business account – but that had been hacked in 2010 and the password changed and so l couldn’t get into that for years – until around 2 years ago when Facebook notified me that they were able to allow me back into my account and so l was able to reaccess 135 of my stored images in galleries and save them to my desktop.

They became known as the New Lost Photos file and alongside others l had managed to dig up and save from other locations and friends was l able to build a collection up again of some of my memories. Some of the photographs that appear in this series “The Wildlifer” are from that file. Whilst there are some newer photos also, but sadly l will have to use images from other locations as that are not my own at times.

Some of the images are quite old and from different systems and so are at times awkward to work with under new digital formats, so my appologies if some are a little grainy.

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Many of my readership, pending of course how long they have followed my posts will know that l have a deep passion, enthusiasm and love for animal species. I was fortuneate to have worked with and alongside animals for a large portion of my life as in singular dedication and not just companions or pets that l have had in my life from young.

Of the many species of animals that l do have a soft spot specifically for and not including my all time loves of dogs and cats on the domestic front, but in the more exotic arena – l have always enjoyed being in the company of porcupines, meerkats, prairie dogs, coatimundi and squirrels.

This particular episode is about a Porcupine that l had in my care for a few months called Vilma who was quite the character indeed and l really loved her. In the following episodes l shall look at others who l had the pleasure of owning in my collections or visiting clients who had species.

But first …

The North American porcupine – Erethizon dorsatum – is also known as the Canadian porcupine and is a large rodent from the New World porcupine family. The word porcupine comes from the French ‘porcespin’ translated into ‘thorn pig’. In Latin porca is pig, whilst spina means thorn. It is also sometimes referred to as the ‘quill pig’. Erethizon dorsatum when translated can be read as ‘ animal with irritating back’

A pair of North American porcupines in their habitat in Quebec By Mattnad – Own work.

Porcupines are herbivores and are a species that can live between 5 – 17 years in the wild although longer in captivity with no threats from predation or environmental conditions. Pending the species in question they can measure between head to tail tip 25 to 45″ in length and occasionally longer with a weight of around 15 – 35 pounds.

These are incredibly prickly rodents and not to be trifled with for fun. There are around 25 – 30 recognised species of porcupine and they can range in a colour variety of between black to brown, to grey and white with several shades inbetween. Their habitats range from wooded shrubbed areas and tress and some species can live successfully full time in trees but other species can live in rocky outcrops or dens within the sides of hills. Some species like the Old World porcupines are more nocturnal, whilst the New World porcupines are less so.

North American porcupine eating grass and clover By Needsmoreritalin at English Wikipedia

Their diet consist of leaves, buds and fruits and twigs and the inner barks to trees which can result in severe damage if not heavy fatalities to the trees themselves. In some parts of the world porcpune species are considered quite the delicacy!

I was very lucky to be able to enjoy the companionship of Vilma for a period of time in 2008 when l lived in Lincolnshire and l had to find a buyer for her for a client of mine. She was the only NA porcupine l had, she had been privately bred and there was no male so this meant placing her was going to be quite tricky especially as there were not that many captive bred NA porcupines around.

This would mean that Vilma [a name l provided] would have to go to either an established breeding programme or a private client who had already established breeding groups of this species.

Vilma was a very loving and affectionate porcupine, she used to purr when you held her in your arms against your chest – which l assure you could be a difficult position anyway. However, her underfur as in her belly fur was beautifully soft to the touch and so when she was being held in your arms, it was indeed her underside that pressed against your body and not her quills.

The biggest and prickliest issues when handling her were that when she wanted a cuddle, you couldn’t pick her up easily, and more so if she wanted to get to you and not let you cradle her up with your gloved hands! This meant that the cuddler had to endure Vilma scaling your legs and using her claws to grasp a hold on your cloth or on occasion bare flesh!!

Vilma was a remarkably itelligent animal and she was very playful and so with her affectionate side, l came to realise that l couldn’t let her go to either a zoo or indeed a private keeper. But she would be more ideally suited in an interactive game park / open park environment. In 2008, there were not many of those types of parks available in the UK – but there were a few.

I spent a day calling the parks that l believed would be better for her requirements and my clients but equally my own. Many brokers would have simply sold Vilma to the highest bidder and that wasn’t my style. My reputation for what l did was way above others at the time. Mine was for quality environmental care over monetary gain.

Finally l managed to secure her a position in an interactive game park in Kent where she lived very happily for many years.

The gallery below, displays Vilma’s first day in the park when l took her down to introduce her to her new owners. They had a small breeding group of NA porcupines but also, people could watch the interactions between the trainers and the animals themselves in the enclosures. Porcupines are intelligent animals and they can be quite playful and they love to be challenged. But also they are exceptional at adopting new ideas of play.

The gallery shows Vilma, being introduced to Ball Play Catch and Retrieve exercises. The ball is placed at the end of a pole and moved around the environment first, and then slowly over time the pole is removed and usually pears or apples are introduced. If you look closely you can see her name written on the pole itself. She would be introduced to a series of fun routines of platforms and ramps that were built into the enclosure. She was an extremely agile porcupine who loved climbing and exploring.

I had started to feed Vilma in the days leading up to her departure more apples and pears in order to motivate and encourage her response to ’rounded objects’.

I was sad to see Vilma go in all honesty because in the 3 – 4 months l had her in my care, l had become quite attached to her and she , l. But l did not have the right facilities to cater to her needs full time. At that time in 2008, l had already let go of my exotic animal collections personally. A move which l had performed three years previously as in taken myself away from holding stock and maintaining breeding programmes and opted to purely manage my brokerage business.

I had 3 cats and six dogs … they were hard enough work as it was. But l was very pleased to not only have met Vilma, but to have had her in my life as an experience, but more so that l was able to place her into an equally loving and fun filled environment for her where she was able to mix with her own species.

Anyway, so there we go – the story of Wilma/Vilma the North American Porcupine. Hope you enjoyed reading and l’ll catch you next time.

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