Are North American Porcupines Going Extinct? (Stable Today But Facing Some Risks)

Floofmania is happy to tell you that the North American porcupine population overall is healthy and fairly stable. In spite of the changes in their habitats, conflict with human populations, and their low reproductive rate, this quilled rodent proves itself to be a surprisingly hardy creature.

Did you know that the earliest fossils of the North American porcupine are believed to have come from the Pleistocene period which was over 2 million years ago? Seems they have been around much longer than we humans, and let’s hope they stick around for much longer.

But the porcupine’s continued survival is no easy feat. Let’s talk about the North American porcupine populations and what their current conservation status means.

Are Porcupines Endangered Or Threatened?

North American porcupines are currently found in three countries: Canada, the US, and Mexico. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers them a species of “least concern”. This means they are fairly plentiful in the wild and the population does not seem to be declining at a worrying rate.

The IUCN is a conservation organization focused on data gathering and research on animals and plants. Every few years their assessors, who are usually species experts, review information from various sources to determine the population health of different species. The previous assessments for the porcupine were done in 1996, 2006, and 2016. 

How Many Porcupines Exist In America And The World?

There are no overall estimates of North American Porcupine populations in North America or worldwide, but the IUCN considers the species stable and widespread.

They say it is virtually impossible to do a “census” or population density studies on a species that is mainly active at night and hides up in trees. It’s really quite impressive how elusive and stealthy the porcupine is in spite of its awkward and slow-moving gait, and its tendency to make a lot of noise!

Are Porcupines Doing Worse In Some Places?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN category of “least concern” talks about porcupine populations on a global level. But we know that the North American porcupine population is scattered across a pretty big range of habitats in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The environment and other conditions for survival are certainly very different in these various locations. Are porcupine populations in Mexico thriving in the same way as they might be in the Yukon Territory of Canada? As you might suspect, some populations are doing better than others.

Porcupine populations in Mexico are endangered while those in a few US States are facing some challenges. 

How Are Porcupine Populations In The US?

According to NatureServe, a nonprofit that focuses on plant and animal research in North America, the porcupine is actually “critically imperiled” in the US State of Virginia. This means there is a very high risk of this species disappearing from this territory due to factors such as very small populations and the restricted range of this animal. 

Meanwhile, it is “vulnerable” or facing a moderate risk of getting wiped out in the following US States:

  • California
  • Kansas, 
  • Oklahoma, 
  • Rhode Island, and
  • West Virginia

And there is some uncertainty as to whether the populations are secure or vulnerable in:

  • Maryland, 
  • Montana, and
  • Oregon

For the US, about 20 out of 39 states studied have secure porcupine populations. 

Considering that there were active campaigns to eradicate porcupines in the US from the 1950s up to the 1970s, this seems like a solid achievement by our spiny friend, with the help of more conscientious human neighbors who are now trying to coexist more peacefully with them.

How Are Porcupine Populations In Canada And Mexico?

The porcupines in Canada are much luckier, for the populations studied in 11 of 12 provinces and territories have been deemed “apparently secure” or “secure”.  

North American porcupines in Mexico are not as fortunate. They have a much smaller range there, being located only in the northern-central portions of the country. The government classified them as endangered species back in 1994.

In What States Or Jurisdictions Is The Porcupine A Protected Species?

Depending on the conservation status, a country or a local territory can include a particular animal in a “protected species” list. 

It’s pretty encouraging to see national and local governments recognize the importance of conserving a herbivore like a porcupine that helps maintain forest health and balance in their ecosystems.

Let us look at regulations in the US, Canada, and Mexico that address the risks to their respective porcupine populations. 

Is The Porcupine Protected In The US?

In the US, the federal government is in charge of designating an animal as endangered. This designation also gives that particular species “protected status”, meaning they cannot be hunted, harassed, trapped, collected, captured and traded, or sold. 

Because overall across the different US states the porcupine population is fairly healthy, they are not on the federal endangered list and do not enjoy protected status.

But this does not stop individual states from implementing local regulations to ensure their North American porcupines are adequately safeguarded.

For example, in Maryland, it is designated as a “watchlisted species” that is in need of conservation. Or in the case of Rhode Island, they prohibit possession or hunting of this animal.

Is The Porcupine Protected In Canada?

The Government of Canada does not consider the porcupine as a species at risk, so it does not have protected status. 

Similar to the US, a subnational territory like a province can set specific local regulations, though. In the case of British Columbia, hunting porcupines is illegal. They can be trapped and removed if causing damage to your property but only with appropriate permits.

Is The Porcupine Protected In Mexico?

The North American Porcupine in Mexico is on the endangered list, and so is covered by several laws aiming at the protection and preservation of the species. 

These laws include the prevention of illegal trafficking, and all activities need permission from the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources. For activities such as capture and collection, they give priority to those intended for repopulation efforts.

Wildlife such as the porcupine already faces constant threats to survival in their natural environment – such as predation or harsh winters. With the constant expansion of human industries and settlements, we are also adding to the stress on their populations (see below) and this is why conservation laws are so important. 

Are Other Species Worse Off Than The North American Porcupine?

Unfortunately, some relatives of the North American porcupine are under a lot more pressure from poaching or habitat destruction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN has identified two out of over 50 species of porcupines worldwide that are at risk. 

  • The Philippine porcupine in Southeast Asia is categorized as “vulnerable” due to being poached for food and also for traditional medicine. Loss of habitat due to deforestation is another factor. 

Unlike its North American cousin, the Philippine porcupine is a smaller, terrestrial animal. It has shorter quills concentrated on its backside.

Here’s a quick look at this endangered Asian species:

  • The dwarf porcupine populations of northeastern Brazil in South America are already on the “endangered” list, declining primarily due to deforestation.

This small porcupine is arboreal like its North American counterpart and has a long prehensile tail that helps it climb. The short fur on its back is usually black while the quill tips are brownish red.

The good news is there is a lot more awareness about these unique species. Hopefully, we aren’t too late and we can keep the 50+ varieties of porcupines with us!     

What Might Threaten Porcupines In The Future?

North American porcupines still continue to face challenges in terms of shrinking habitats, increased contact or conflict with human populations, and even climate change. Conservationists definitely need to watch out for these even though currently, these threats are not considered significant enough to cause sudden declines in porcupine numbers.

  • Shrinking or loss of habitat

The reduction of forested areas where porcupines thrive is one major threat to this species. Logging and clearing forested areas for various human developments not only deplete their food sources, and increases their contact with people, which leads to another issue.

  • Conflict with humans

As porcupine habitats shrink and human settlements encroach, there is increased contact and conflict. Porcupines are sometimes viewed as pests because they eat trees and plants, wooden tools, structures, and even vehicle parts. And so some people choose to eliminate them and it is actually legal in some territories.

Another major threat to porcupines related to sharing their habitat with people is vehicular accidents. 

They tend to wander out more onto the roads and have unfortunate run-ins with cars and trucks during springtime – when they actively forage to regain body mass after the harsh winter months, and in the fall – when they travel across home ranges to find suitable mates. 

The slow-moving, nearly blind, two-foot-high rodent doesn’t stand a chance against motor vehicles traveling across their home ranges.

  • Climate Change

Changing weather patterns stress whole ecosystems, not just individual species like the porcupine. For example, drier weather causes more forest fires or droughts that destroy habitats and reduce food availability. 

There is one very specific impact of climate change on porcupines that have been observed. 

Shorter winters in Wisconsin have been pushing snowshoe hares to move northward to snowier locations. The fisher, a small carnivorous mammal that belongs to the weasel family, mainly hunts these hares for food.

Because of the smaller snowshoe hare populations, fishers have been switching to hunting porcupines, and so porcupine populations have been declining.

We will probably learn of more cases of climate change-induced challenges for this animal as more studies on trends in porcupine populations are completed.

Author: Eleanor Tan

Eleanor grew up with rottweilers and pit bulls and loved the James Herriot books about animals as a kid. She thinks animals are endlessly fascinating, and that we can learn a lot from them, all creatures, great and small.

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