Barton the Porcupine

By Mary Alice Hartsock

May 25, 2014 was a very long day for Barton the porcupine. At 10:30 a.m. he left Washington State in the cargo hold of an airplane. He flew to Utah, where he had a layover. He then flew on to Philadelphia alongside a new traveling partner—a young goat destined for a farm in Pennsylvania.

Just before midnight Philadelphia time, Barton and the goat arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport. The goat was returning home from a Utah breeding farm, having been chosen for the journey because his mother was a champion milker and cream producer. Both goat and porcupine were understandably anxious at having been cooped up for hours—and quite fragrant, according to Live Animal Center Manager Lisa McGonigle. She and Mammal Keeper Nancy Rule were at the airport to greet Barton and take him to his new home at the Academy.

Before he moved into the Academy’s Live Animal Center, Barton lived in a Washington State forest. He was burned in a brush fire and rescued by rangers who took him to Washington State University’s Veterinary Hospital for treatment of the burns on his face, feet, and back.

Little by little, Barton healed, but his doctors decided he could not be released back into the wild because of his injuries. He has some scarring around his eyes and a bald spot in place of quills on his back, and he would be unable to defend himself against potential predators.

Luckily Barton had good caretakers who found him a home at the Academy. Our Live Animal Center happened to be looking for a North American porcupine to become one of our live animal ambassadors. Barton’s keepers saw our notice on the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council’s website and thought he would be a great match for our program.

Getting Barton here wasn’t as simple as buying an airline ticket, though for Exhibits Fabricator Mike Beers it was simply business as usual. Barton needed a specific kind of carrier to travel in the airplane’s cargo area, so Beers built him a conforming cage inside another animal shipping container. The Academy then shipped the container all the way to Washington so that Barton’s travels would be as safe and comfortable as possible.

Fast forward to May, when Barton arrived at the Academy. Disgruntled by the plane ride and characteristically stinky (all porcupines have a body odor or musk-like scent that they use to warn predators and help attract potential mates), Barton settled into quarantine at the Live Animal Center. He stayed there for a couple of months, and then he joined Zoot, Pinto the hedgehog, and our many other animal ambassadors to begin his training and enrichment activities.

During the last few months, Barton’s sweet disposition and somewhat hilarious habits have amused our keepers. This prickly porcupine is so friendly that he used to hang out in the administrative offices of his Washington State caretakers. He eagerly packs himself into his carrier (still at a porcupine’s pace) when it’s time for training—as long as he’s offered an edible reward inside the carrier. His favorite treat seems to be banana chips!

Barton spends most of his time gnawing on twigs and leaves that McGonigle brings from an edible tree near her home. He can usually be found resting in the corners of his cage with his prickly behind hanging out—a position that porcupines use to protect their non-quilled heads from predators. Like most porcupines, he waddles very slowly but is in good health and has even lost some excess weight that he gained during his initial recovery.

You can meet Barton at a very special porcupine story time on Wednesday, December 10, when he is introduced to the public for the very first time. Join us in the auditorium for our 2:30 live animal show to meet Barton and hear a porcupine story.

Can’t make it? On Sunday, December 14, you will have a second chance to meet our adorable porcupine! Sunday’s activities include a chance to meet Barton at our 2:30 p.m. live animal show in the auditorium, hear a porcupine story, and do a porcupine craft from 1 to 5 p.m.—all for free with museum admission.

If you see Barton on the weekend, there’s a sweet bonus included with your visit! On December 14, American Heritage Chocolate Days are back by popular demand. Throughout the weekend from 12–4 p.m. each day, enjoy delicious chocolate the way it was prepared during Colonial times. Created by Mars, American Heritage Chocolate only uses ingredients that were available during the 18th century.

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