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In a region with so many claims to fame, it’s highly unlikely that anyone has ever visited Tuscany for a porcupine-spotting holiday. But, in practice, that works out just fine. For bright-eyed visitors bristling with curiosity about the area’s wildlife, the sight of one of these quietly confident locals is an unexpected highlight. And as for the largely peace-loving ‘istrici’, they are happy to keep a low profile – if that’s the right phrase for a creature with a coat of white-tipped spines on its back. Safe from all but the most confident predators, they continue doing what they do best: roaming pine woods and farmland with typical rodent resourcefulness.
These quiet creatures are most active between sunset and the early hours of the morning, when acute hearing, sensitive paws and a finely developed sense of smell are more useful than sight, particularly in the burrows and undergrowth that they love. Calm and insouciant by nature, they tend to move at an amble rather than a scuttle; although if you happen to see them at their most impressive, flaring their quills in defence, it’s probably time to get back in the car…
Tuscany’s population of crested porcupines are the descendants of the first few pairs imported from Africa by the ancient Romans, who intended them as a food source. Nowadays, it’s the porcupines which do most of the eating, sometimes roaming over 10 kilometres from their lairs in search of windfall fruits as well as seeds and insects. Their fondness for roots and tubers, combined with an ability to tunnel under fences, infuriates the region’s gardeners, and although porcupines are less destructive than wild boar, they share a notorious appetite for Chianti – or at least the grapes.