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Porcupines become fashion victims in S.Africa

South Africa's porcupines are being slaughtered so their quills can be turned into tourist souvenirs, an animal welfare group said on Sunday.

"Porcupines are being hunted wholesale for the fashion market and nobody has any idea how many are being killed," said Christina Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

"The craze for porcupine products has really taken off over the last three years and we worry about the impact on the porcupine population."

Quills are used in tourist products such as pens and lampshades in a new, unregulated industry, Pretorius said.

They are also used by some designers to convey an Afro-centric flair. "They have a big appeal to the fashion industry. You see them in jewellery and as hair ornaments."

The Sunday Independent newspaper said porcupines were also increasingly being targeted by trophy game hunters who will pay $100 to shoot one.

IFAW has launched a "Think Twice" programme to encourage visitors not to buy souvenirs made from wild animals, including elephant hair bracelets and illegal ivory objects.

In a report on the porcupine quill industry released this year, IFAW said the Cape porcupine, which inhabits most of sub-Saharan Africa, was regarded as vermin by farmers which made it difficult to win support for the animal.

Porcupine burrows create obstacles for farm vehicles, and some porcupines bite through fencing and gnaw into water pipes. As a result, hunting of porcupines has become indiscriminate, the report said.

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 It said porcupine quills sell at around 2 rand (28 U.S. cents) in retail outlets and traders often deal in shipments of tens of thousands of quills.

"A lampshade, for example, requires many quills of identical size and similar markings. You are not going to get that off one animal, a decent lampshade may take the quills off 200 or 250 porcupines," Pretorius said.

Porcupines give birth to only one litter of one to four young each year and numbers could therefore drop rapidly even if it is listed as protected under new biodiversity regulations.

"It has happened before," Pretorius said. "Italy's porcupine population was almost shot out entirely -- for the cooking pot."




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