Spikes and thrills as prodigious porcupine puppet unveiled

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was a quilling experience for everyone.

Percy, a porcupine puppet of prodigious proportions, emerged from his giant stump house to an audience of school children and members of the media in a Los Angeles park on Tuesday.

The adorable beast inspired oohs and awwws as she blinked droopy eyes and opened her mouth to show her teeth. She stood nearly two stories tall with a nose the size of a Volkswagen.

A joint project of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Percy was released to celebrate the opening next week of the zoo’s new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp.

Six months into the planning, the puppet is modeled after the prehensile-tailed porcupine, native to South America. It has a circumference of nearly 40 feet (12 meters) and has 2,000 foam quills that took a paint house to put scratches on.

“We’ve done some slightly larger fantasy creatures, but in terms of duplicating an animal, this is the largest we’ve ever done,” said Peter Brooke, creative supervisor of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

The prehensile tail which gives its name to the arboreal and frugivorous species only exists in this case in the imagination. Only the front half exists and protrudes, with the rest appearing to remain safely inside the log.

“It’s basically based on a big inflatable with the addition of a mechanical mouth, jaw, and eyes,” Brooke said.

A real prehensile-tailed porcupine was on the scene at Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium. The porcupine got “lost” before emerging in its giant puppet form, after children pulled out bunches of bananas to lure it.

“I think she’s getting close, I think I know what it takes for her,” Basecamp performer Jennifer Popagain said before pulling out her own giant banana.

The kids counted out, then harassed Percy once she got out.

After another media stop, Percy will travel down the coast to his permanent home at the San Diego Zoo.

The Wildlife Explorers Basecamp is a 3.2-acre area of ​​the zoo designed to teach families about the interactions and interdependence of humans, plants, animals and their habitats.

Featured species will include a turtle, an ocelot, a caiman, an anteater known as a tamandua and, of course, a prehensile-tailed porcupine.