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Amazing Porcupine Puppet Will Grace San Diego Zoo

Simone Jonker
Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.
Published: March 10, 2022
Percy the Porcupine, the world's largest puppet built by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, is unveiled as the San Diego Zoo celebrates a new attraction at Elysian Fields on March 01, 2022, in Los Angeles, California. (Image: Michael Tullberg/Getty)

At Griffith Park in Los Angeles, a gigantic porcupine puppet named “Percy” delighted children and members of the media with a surprise arrival. Percy batted her beady eyes and opened her mouth to show off big buck teeth as she emerged from her stump house. 

With a snout the size of an automobile, Percy towered well above the crowd. The experience was quite quilling for all! 

According to its creators, Percy is “the world’s largest puppet ever conceived” and stands at around two stories tall. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop presented Percy the Porcupine puppet to celebrate the launch of the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp attraction at the San Diego Zoo.

“One of the hardest things is to try to create something that cute on such a large scale,” Peter Brooke, the creative supervisor for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop said. He explained that they had done fantasy creatures before that are bigger, but that Percy is the biggest animal they had ever created.

The prehensile-tailed porcupine, native to South America, was the inspiration for the six-month project to create Percy. The puppet has a total of 2,000 foam quills, for which an entire building’s worth of paint was used to render stripes.

The prehensile-tailed porcupine

The prehensile-tailed porcupine is a nocturnal tree-dwelling mammal found throughout Central and South America. The tail of this porcupine makes it unique. The word “prehensile” implies “clutching,” and their tail can be used as a third arm to grasp tree limbs. 

Prehensile-tailed porcupines feed on leaves, branches, fruits, bark, roots, flower buds, and the cambium layer beneath the bark of certain plants. The silky hair of porcupettes hardens into rigid quills within minutes of their birth. 

Students get to see a real porcupine before the unveiling of Percy, a giant two-story porcupine at Elysian Fields in Los Angeles. (Image: David Crane via Getty Images)

When threatened, the porcupine curls up into a ball to hide its tender undersides while wiggling its quills. This kind of porcupine, like many animals that are active at night, has poor eyesight but keen senses of touch, hearing, and smell. Their bodies can grow to a length of two feet, with an additional two feet of tail. They can make a variety of noises, ranging from barks and whines to grunts, coughs, shrieks, howls, and wails. 

Reproduction and development

The average female reaches sexual maturity at around 19 months, and is capable of reproducing for a period of up to 12 years after that. The gestation period lasts an estimated three months and results in the birth of a single, well-developed porcupette that weighs approximately 14 ounces (400 grams) on average at the time of birth. It is born with wide-open eyes and the capacity to climb. Even though weaning occurs at around 10 weeks, the animal does not reach its maximum development potential until it is closer to four months old.

The prehensile-tailed porcupine is liable to bite its enemy in self-defense. Hollows, tangled vines, and lofty tree branches are where these arboreal, nocturnal critters spend their time. It is possible to find them living alone, with a partner, or in small groups in trees.

Percy the puppet’s unspined tail is left to the imagination, as most of her body is hidden inside a log, from which only her head protrudes. “It’s essentially based on a big inflatable with the addition of a mouth, a jaw, and mechanical eyes,” Brooke stated.

An actual prehensile-tailed porcupine was “on the loose” near Dodger Stadium in Elysian Park. After the children brought out a lot of bananas to attract the porcupine, she got “lost” for a while before re-emerging in enormous puppet form.

Students get up close to Percy, a two-story porcupine at Elysian Fields in Los Angeles Tuesday, March 1, 2021. (Image: David Crane via Getty Images)

Jennifer Popagain the Basecamp performer said, “I think she’s getting close, I think I know just the thing for her,” before bringing out a jumbo banana of her own. The youngsters counted down and as soon as Percy emerged, they crowded around her and patted her gigantic nose affectionately. 

After another media presentation, Percy will continue her trek down the coast to her eventual destination at the San Diego Zoo.

The Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is located on 3.2 acres of property and is aimed at educating children and their families about the connection between man and wildlife as well as their natural habitats.

A prehensile-tailed porcupine will undoubtedly be among the animals on display, as will an ocelot, a caiman, an anteater known as a tamandua, and several more.

Last but not least, some porcupine wisdom for when things get prickly:

  • Spend time in the woods.
  • Remember your good points.
  • Don’t needle your friends.
  • It’s okay to be a slowpoke.
  • Stay sharp.
  • Stick up for yourself!