By Jeremy Hance
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 mongabay.com'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."
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....