Nova Scotia

Influx of porcupines has Hope for Wildlife scrambling for space

An influx of porcupines has left Hope for Wildlife needing more space for the prickly animals. Mange is part of the problem.

Wildlife rescue cared for 30-40 porcupines all last winter, but 23 have arrived this month alone

A porcupine with mange will lose the hair and quills on its stomach and sometimes on its back depending on the severity of the disease. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

An influx of porcupines has left Hope for Wildlife needing more space for the prickly animals.

Hope Swinimer, the founder of the non-profit wildlife rescue in Seaforth, N.S., said Sunday they had between 30 and 40 porcupines for the whole winter season last year. But they've brought in 23 porcupines in December alone this year.

Swinimer isn't sure why, but mange is a part of it.

She and her team of staff and volunteers are converting a small barn into a recovery unit for porcupines on the mend from mange, a type of skin disease caused by parasitic mites.

Mange causes the porcupines to lose the fur and quills on their stomachs and sometimes their backs, Swinimer said. That leaves them vulnerable to frostbite and is particularly deadly in Canadian winters.

A small barn, normally used to house Hope Swinimer's horse, is being converted to an enclosed unit for porcupines on the mend from mange.

"They have no protection at all," she said.

Some porcupines are still in early stages of treatment, but some have been treated and have mange out of their system, said Tessa Jackson, who works on the Hope for Wildlife medical team.

Some porcupines have been treated and are waiting to move to the new unit to keep regrowing their fur, said Tessa Jackson, who works on the medical team. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

"We do have some that are totally fine, just regrowing their fur in a larger unit," Jackson said. "They're waiting to be moved out to the new unit that we're building for them."

The plan is to make the barn airtight and fill it with hay and heat lamps. When porcupines have finished their treatment, but are still growing back their fur, they'll have a place to roam without exposing them to winter conditions.

Hope for Wildlife is accepting donations of live Christmas trees until Jan. 2, Swinimer said. They have a number of uses including natural wind barriers and snacks for porcupines. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

The new space will also be filled with bits of pine trees, which will act as a barrier to the wind and also mimic natural habitat. Porcupines like to snack on them too, Swinimer said.

Many of the porcupines brought to Hope for Wildlife also suffer from some type of upper respiratory illness. Swinimer said it's unclear whether mange or the respiratory illness comes first, but they're conducting tests to find out.

One porcupine is suffering from an extreme case of upper respiratory illness and is on oxygen to help with breathing. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

The good news is mange is easier to treat now than it was 20 years ago.

"People are still under the misconception that, 'Oh, you should shoot this animal, it has mange'. Well, it's very easy to help it, and fix it and get it back to a healthy state," Swinimer said.

Once the porcupines are treated, and their fur and quills have grown back, they'll be put into a larger outdoor unit and eventually released back into the wild, Swinimer said, which is the ultimate goal.