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Odd porcupine hugely imperiled by hunting, deforestation

The thin-spined porcupine, also known as the bristle-spined rat, is a truly distinct animal: a sort of cross between New World porcupines and spiny rats with genetic research showing it is slightly closer to the former rather than the latter. But the thin-spined porcupine (Chaetomys subspinosus), found only in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, is imperiled by human activities. In fact, a new study in’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science found that the species remains a target for hunters, despite a reputation for tasting terrible.

Conducting 125 interviews with people living both illegally and legally in two protected areas—Una Wildlife Refuge and the Serra do Conduru State Park—the scientists found that only half of the respondents could accurately identify the species. Those that could generally had a low opinion of the taste of thin-spined porcupine meat. In addition, some taboos have risen about thin-spined porcupine meat. But hunting still poses a grave risk to the species.

“Although its meat is not coveted throughout the study area, the main reason for hunting it is for food,” the researchers write. “Another motivation for hunting is for medicinal uses. Some respondents in both areas have cited using the thin-spined porcupine’s quills to treat diseases, especially strokes, and to improve the accuracy of hunting dogs.”

Thin-spined porcupine. Photo by: Photo by: Gaston Giné/Castilho et al.

Thin-spined porcupine. Photo by: Gaston Giné/Castilho et al.

The thin-spined porcupine shares its habitat with a more common and well-known porcupine, Bahia hairy dwarf porcupine (Sphiggurus insidiosus). Although sometimes confused with each other, the two porcupines are actually quite different. The thin-spined porcupine, whose spines are more like bristles and less likely to cause injury, is so distinct that not only does it belong to its own genus, but also its own subfamily.

In addition to hunting, other activities are likely hurting thin-spined porcupines in the two parks including cutting down secondary forests, wood extraction, burning, and stealing wild animals—several respondents said that young thin-spined porcupines made good pets.

In order to protect the thin-spined porcupine, which is considered Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, the researchers say conservation program should focus on the people in the area, many of whom are poor.

“More attention should be paid to local residents living inside and around these protected areas. Dependence on wildlife resources, especially among farmers and agriculture dependents, must be reduced through livelihood security,” the write, adding that education efforts “should focus on rural residents, especially men, who have negative attitudes toward wildlife conservation. Particularly, hunters and consumers should be educated about how overhunting threatens both biodiversity and rural livelihoods ”

Brazil’s Atlantic Forest remains one of the most imperiled in the world. Only around 7 percent of the original forest is left and what remains is often found in fragmented pockets, hugely imperiled by encroaching development and hunting. Many of the Atlantic Forests’ big animals have already been driven to local extinction, but a number of species found no-where else are still hanging on, like the thin-spined porcupine.


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