Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

My friend ‘Porky’

Rural Zichron Yaakov – 11pm. A clear night. Just me and the ‘hund’ pounding the beat before turning in for the night.

On the edge of the Carmel – adjacent to the Ramat Hadiv nature reserve – jackals are often heard howling to attract a mate. At least I thought it was a jackal I heard howling a love-sick lament the other night, until a neighbour sheepishly refused to make eye contact with me the following morning and left me wondering if I had heard something quite different!

In five years of ‘tiyulim’ with my faithful hound Mocca, I’ve spotted owls, snakes, wild boar, and eagles, but nothing quite as surprising as this latest encounter.

It began when a lady ‘of a certain age’ who tends to trot her poodle around the same block at a similar time to me, stopped and breathlessly informed me that she had just seen a ‘durban’ just around the corner. I thought it more than a touch surprising that the sighting of a South African late at night would leave the lady all of a quiver, but she explained that a ‘durban’ was one of those big hedgehog creatures with spines that it shoots at you when sensing danger.

She had hurried along in fear that the ‘durban’ might take a shot at her pooch and render him senseless. It took me a moment before I understood she had seen a porcupine; and a big one, at that.

I wasn’t aware that we had porcupines in Israel, so left the lady (and her poodle) and headed along with my fearless mutt to the scene of the alleged sighting. Nothing. I hung around for a moment or two outside the house in question then, sure enough, heard a rustling noise coming from the vicinity of the neighbour’s trash.

And there he was. Much bigger than I had anticipated, snouting around a bag of garden cuttings, and quite superb. He saw me, Mocca woofed, and then ‘Porky’s’ quills all stood to attention fanning out in the same way a peacock displays its plumage. (The thought crossed my mind that an umbrella might have been a good line of defence at this point.)

But he didn’t take aim and …fire. He just scuttled away under a parked car. I stood back a few yards, crouched down, and waited for him to reappear.

A car approached and the driver stopped to ask me if everything was OK? Clearly the sight of a grown man kneeling down on a pavement late at night had set alarm bells ringing.

I told him what I had seen and he duly parked his car and came over to join me, stating that he had lived in the area all his life and never seen this notoriously private, nocturnal creature. A curious neighbour – who had been viewing the whole scene from across the road with some bemusement – came out to join the observation crew, as did my wife and eldest daughter, who I had contacted to come out and see our unexpected visitor.

‘Porky’ clearly had time on his quills because he wasn’t in any hurry to ‘play ball’, but then a cat came bounding along and ran under the parked car and ‘Porky’ came darting out the other side and sped along the street – faster than the famed Penelope Pitstop from ‘The Wacky Races’ – making good his escape, accompanied by gasps of amazement from my band of onlookers.

We decided to let ‘Porky’ be and leave him to find his way back to the nature reserve from where we assumed he must have emerged some time earlier.

Apparently the Indian crested porcupine is a secretive native of Israel, and after doing just a little research I read that they had caused damage to the famous/infamous ‘alleged’ research facility at Dimona back in 2007, chewing through important cables. Reuters reported at the time that the porcupines were tempted out into the open by a combination of “potatoes and chocolate milk”.

Of the same incident, Yediot Aharonot quoted one David Golan from the Dimona centre as saying, “a porcupine explosion posed a security threat.” Could exploding porcupines possibly be Israel’s much whispered secret weapon?

Thrilling as the sighting of my spiky friend was, maybe it was also a sign that something’s afoot in my neck of the woods!

Note to self: Add chocolate milk to weekly shopping list from now on.

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at