The Cape porcupine is a large terrestrial rodent native to central and southern Africa. It is the largest rodent in Africa and also the world's largest porcupine. It is a heavily built animal, with a stocky body, short limbs, and an inconspicuous tail. The body is covered in long spines up to 50 cm (20 in) in length, interspersed with thicker, sharply pointed, defense quills up to 30 cm (12 in) long, and with bristly, blackish, or brownish fur. The spines on the tail are hollow and used to make a rattling sound to scare away predators. An erectile crest of long, bristly hairs runs from the top of the porcupine's head down to its shoulders. The spines and quills cover the back and flanks of the animal and continuing onto the tail. The quills have multiple bands of black and white along their length, and grow from regularly spaced grooves along the animal's body; each groove holding five to eight quills. The remainder of the animal, including the undersides, is covered with dark hair.
Cape porcupines are found across the whole of southern and central Africa, to southern Kenya, Uganda, and Congo at the northern edge of their range. They live in a wide range of habitats, preferring rocky crevices and caves for shelter. They are only marginally present in dense forests and the driest of deserts and are not found in swampland.
Cape porcupines are nocturnal animals, typically living as mated pairs of adults, caring for their young together. Each pair may inhabit up to 6 burrows, jointly defending their shared territory, although they typically forage singly. Both sexes scent mark their territory, although males do so more frequently, and may play a more active role in its defense. Cape porcupines are shy creatures and when attacked, their main defense mechanism is to freeze. However, if cornered, they turn vicious and charge to stab their attacker with their quills. Otherwise, porcupines may retreat into their burrow, exposing only their quills and making it hard to dislodge.
Cape porcupines are monogamous animals that form pairs. They mate throughout the year, although births are usually most common during the rainy season, between August and March. Females typically give birth only once each year. Gestation lasts around 94 days and results in the birth of a litter of 1-3 young. Newborn pups weigh 300 to 440 grams (11 to 16 oz); they are born well-developed, with their eyes open, and initially have soft quills. Although they are born with their incisor teeth fully erupted, the remaining teeth begin to appear at 14 days. The pups are weaned at around 100 days of age, and grow rapidly for the first 20 weeks, reaching the full adult size, and reproductive maturity, at the end of their first year.
There are no major threats to the Cape porcupine at present.
According to IUCN, the Cape porcupine is locally common throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Cape porcupines are often considered pests by local farmers because they can feed on crops and damage trees. However, their debarking of trees may also play a role in the maintenance of local savannah ecosystems, helping to prevent the development of denser forested environments.