Poached porcupine meat was discovered alongside rifle magazines and ammunition during a police ambush in Mghar, northern Israel, Walla! News reported on Thursday. Two suspects were arrested.
Crested porcupines are the largest rodents found in Israel and although they are not at risk of extinction, they are classified as a protected species under Israeli law. Superstitions tied to the alleged qualities of the meat led to the relatively vulnerable mammal being a frequent target for poachers.
Porcupine meat has its own market and "there are people who make a living from hunting porcupines and trading their meat," said Liad Ling, North District head of investigations in the Nature and Parks Authority. "The price for a poached porcupine can reach up to NIS 450 ($129)."
Many virtues are believed to be possessed by the animals' meat, Ling told Walla, "including the claim that porcupine meat cleanses the kidneys and increases fertility." The beliefs tied to porcupines are the result of the noises the animal makes, "that resemble a baby's cry," Ling said. "Its feet also resemble baby feet, and that resemblance probably led to the emergence of that superstition."
Poachers usually hunt using dogs that trace the porcupines to their burrows, making the animals freeze and raise their quills. Once captured, the poachers hit the animal's head, killing it on the spot. In 2009, a poacher was convicted of illegal hunting for the first time in Israel's history after hunting for porcupines. The man was sentenced to five months in prison, according to Walla.
Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran denied the man's appeal, saying that the penalty of animal cruelty should be harsher. "Animal cruelty, besides the indirect harm it causes for humans, shows heartlessness and callousness," he said. "We have to ensure that we minimize the pain we cause, especially when it comes to those whose cries we cannot hear, and who cannot stand up for their rights. Such a step toward the protection of our own humanity while minimizing the harm we cause to the animals that surround us has to affect all judicial spheres, including criminal law."