Meet the Zoo: Quills and Bills

An African crested porcupine and two East African hornbills have joined the menagerie at the Prospect Park Zoo.


Visitors to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo are raving about the newest exhibit on the outside path to the barn area. Its inhabitants are similar to a couple of other animals in the zoo, but show some decidedly different characteristics in their signature features—quills and bills.

Featuring impressive quills up to 18 inches long, the African crested porcupine is giving visitors pause, but they are able to relate this animal to its distant cousin on the zoo’s Discovery Trail—the North American porcupine.  Both have a similar prickly appearance and both are members of the rodent family. But that’s where the similarity ends. 

African porcupines are strictly ground dwellers, have spikes arranged in clusters and are generally bigger than North American porcupines. The North American porcupines are tree climbers and their quills are attached singly and interspersed with bristle and hair. And contrary to legend, neither species can “shoot” their quills.

The African crested porcupine’s exhibit-mates, on the other hand, are members of a large and diverse family, the hornbills. This bird species range includes subtropical Africa, Asia, and Melanesia. Visitors to the zoo have already enjoyed watching the large wreathed hornbills from Southeast Asia, with their brilliant green and yellow neck pouches.  Now, visitors can contrast another member of the hornbill family—the Von Der Decken’s hornbill, a native of East Africa.

These tiny hornbills have black and white bodies and the male has a brilliant orange curved beak.  The female, like many birds, is less colorful but certainly as interested in the onlookers as her mate.

Both these animals—including the wreathed hornbills—will move to indoor quarters for the winter once winter approaches, so come see them soon or you’ll have to wait until spring.


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