HK Natural History Society: An evening with the porcupines at Black’s Link,
Saturday 20 August 2022.
Report by Peter Stuckey
It was a beautiful evening as eight of us gathered at Wanchai Gap for a 6 pm rendezvous. Black kites (Milvus migrans) were circling overhead riding the evening thermals. The park is always well kept, rewarding those who turned up early with a wide variety of plants – currently the crepe myrtle, curcuma and the allamandas were among the blooms.
The views as we walked up to Black’s Link were classic and hugely rewarding for the effort involved!
During the evening’s walk we saw some Buttercup orchids (Spathoglottis pubescens), Melastoma, St John’s Lily (Crinum asiaticum).
Ted gave us an introduction on porcupines explaining they were among the largest rodents after capybaras, coypus, muskrats and beavers. Rodents are mammals that have a continuously growing pair of incisor teeth in the upper and lower jaws. The Order “Rodentia” is so named from the Latin “rodere” = to gnaw. They get a bad press as one of the best known rodents, of course, are Brown rats but in Hong Kong there are also Pallas’s squirrels in this Order.
We stopped at a sitting out area by a pylon while the sunset passed and night fell. A couple of feral cats appeared but slinked off into the night. Soon after we resumed our walk, we were each rewarded by several sightings of porcupines, some alone and some in pairs. We spotted them in the woodland beside the road or even crossing the road. They appeared undeterred by our presence, our excitement and noise – not even disturbed by our torches which we were able to use to assist in photography.
The front part of their body is covered in brown spines up to 5 cms. long but the most characteristic feature are the black and white quills attached to the hidquarters of the porcupine. The quills are up to 25 cms. long, hollow, and made a rattling noise particularly when the porcupine was agitated. This is a first warning sign. If further upset the porcupine erects its quills and stamps its feet. It may then turn its back and charge backwards to the disturbance and as a matter of defence, drive its quills, painfully, into the intruder. Quills are not thrown but will detach into the victim. The quill is hard to remove and may ultimately lead to injury or death of, say, an over-inquisitive dog.
Some of the group also saw wild boar crossing the road but on this occasion we did not see any toads or fireflies that we saw on a visit by HKNHS on 29 May 2020. We finished the walk at Wong Nei Cheong Gap about 8:30pm. after a thoroughly pleasant and satisfying evening.