Quills and thrills as prodigious porcupine puppet unveiled

LOS ANGELES – It was a quilling experience for all.

Percy, a porcupine puppet of prodigious proportions, emerged from her giant stump home for an audience of schoolchildren and media members at a Los Angeles park on Tuesday.

The adorable beast inspired oohs and awwws as she blinked her droopy eyes and opened her mouth to show her buck 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 let out to celebrate next week’s opening of the zoo’s new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp.

Six months in the planning, the puppet is modeled on 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 it took a house-worth of paint to put stripes on.

“We’ve done some fantasy creatures a little bit bigger, but in terms of duplicating an animal it’s the biggest we’ve ever done,” said Peter Brooke, creative supervisor for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

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The prehensile tail that gives the tree-dwelling, fruit-eating species its name exists in this case in the imagination only. Just the front half exists and pokes out, the rest appearing to stay safely inside the log.

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

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

“I think she’s getting close, I think I know just the thing for her,” Basecamp performer Jennifer Popagain said before bringing out a giant banana of her own.

The kids counted down, then mobbed Percy once she emerged.

After another media stop, Percy will make her way down the coast to her permanent home at the San Diego Zoo.

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

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

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