the day we fed a porcupine

D14_036_048One of the best things about working on American magazine is that we get to meet some really cool people. This issue we met an alumnus with a super cool sidekick: a prehensile-tailed porcupine named Clark.

First, a little background on Clark’s caretaker, Kenton Kerns, CAS/BS ’07. A zookeeper in the small mammal house at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Kenton volunteered and interned at the zoo before landing a full-time gig. Kenton and his colleagues care for 100 animals across 30 species, including naked mole rats, owls, black howler monkeys, golden lion tamarins, and meerkats.

D14_063_110And here’s the thing: he knows his stuff. When we sent him Jeff Watts’ photo of two golden lion tamarins (which appears on the opening spread of the August magazine) and asked if, by some chance, he could identify them, Kenton wrote right back. Yep! This is Mo and Mara, born on November 18, 2006. Impressive, right?

D14_041_042Now, a little on Clark. A forest dweller, he has sharp spines; a big, round nose; and a tail from which he hangs upside down. A nocturnal vegetarian rodent, he noshes on fruits, veggies and monkey biscuits. Another important fact about Clark: those spines, which he deploys when scared or startled, can be deadly.

That’s why, when Kenton offered to let us feed Clark after we got our shot for the magazine, I was slightly apprehensive (translation: scared out of my mind). Designer Maria Jackson, who volunteered at the small mammal house years ago, was far braver. She stepped right up, examining those deadly spines and feeding Clark a chunk of banana. D14_041_026I was about ready to pass, when Kenton reminded me that feeding a porcupine is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How could I argue with that? With his help, I offered Clark a piece of fruit—and lived to tell about it! Afterwards, we shared a good laugh about what a wimp I was.D14_041_035Kenton was a joy to work with and we’re so thankful he—and Clark—made some time for us. (More than 2 million people visit the zoo each year, so we had to schedule our shoot after-hours.) His passion for and knowledge of animals is incredible—and infectious. Next time you’re at the zoo, look for Kenton and tell him American magazine sent you.