The African Giant Pouched Rat Husbandry: Characteristics, A Pet, And Bush Meat
Have you ever imagined a Rat as large as a Cat? Cricetomys gambianus, known as the African Giant Pouched Rat, is a fascinating nocturnal mammal with very impressive and unique characteristics. It is referred to as "pouched Rat" because of its elastic bag-like mouth cavity that can only be compared to a marsupial pouch (like in Kangaroo).
Apart from it's very large size, the tail is made up of a white tip that did not only distinctively differs it from any other type of Rat, but also informed of a belief in some local African communities that, it is a natural torchlight used to aid vision at night.
This grey omnivore, with white underbelly, is popularly regarded as a 'Pet and Pest'. But it is its remarkable behavioural nature and rare Intelligence that are rather more attractive.
An Intelligent Animal
The most fascinating characteristic of the African giant pouched rat is its high degree of intelligence, sometimes comparable to man. Some of the unique behavioural attributes that are driving this position are:
• Gathering and storage of food - The name 'pouched Rat' was derived from the elastic nature of the muscles around the mouth and jaws of the Rat which it uses to pack food and materials in a manner comparable to a bag. The mouth can carry large amount of seeds, nuts, and utililities; in quantities larger than the ideal capacity.
The food stuffs so collected with the mouth pouch are stored in specially designed chamber in the rat hole. The food store is comparable to common house-hold food stores. The stores are usually packed with different varieties of food that can sustain the Rat in its hole for a very long period of time.
In the tropical rain forest region where the rainy season is in rotation with a dry season, the Giant African Pouched Rat is known to collect its food during abundant rainfall when plants are in their blossom. And remains in the holes in most parts of the dry season.
• Locking of the entrance to its hole: The Giant African Rat is security conscious! Within some few centimetres into its hole is a point that represents a door that must be locked. Once it is inside the hole, two layers of barriers are used to block the hole preventing predators (eg. the Black Cobra) from entering. The first layer, which is the external, is a mixture of wet moldy soil and shells of nuts that forms a rigid system that sometimes creates a dead-end for local hunters who are fund of digging the holes. Beneath the rigid wall is a reinforcement of Kernels or Rubber seeds. The lock is removed every time the animal goes out, and re-introduced when ever it returns.
• Cleaning of its environment: You would expect that the chambers of the Rat-hole will be filled with feces and dirts as the Rat can stay so many days in the hole without coming out, and since it is of the habit of gathering food and other materials. But the true situation is that, a special chamber, usually built close to the external surface-constructed with a thin aeration hole-is used as a toilet; that till date, I still finds it difficult to understand how the rat could pierce such a narrow hole from the surface of the ground to the inner chamber. The Chamber is somewhat a toilet with ventilation system to take out odours.
Also, it is common to find more chambers in older holes. Some of which are used for storing dirts. Dirts that must have been accumulated for many years are kept here with certain insects and fungi helping to break them down. A hole of this type normally shows signs of renovations.
• Defensive digging of its hole: The giant African Rat is aware that man is the most notorious predators. Dug holes are rampant in rural areas of southern Nigerians. Hence, it has learnt to dig its holes under large heavy pavements that cannot be destroyed by man, under buildings, at the sides of bridges, and in old termite hills. Although hunters do destroy termite hills in search of the animals, most of the time the natural holes on the sides of the hills can either mis-lead the hunters or conceal the hole.
The African Giant Pouched Rat As A Pet
The use of the African Giant rat as a pet is well established. The wild Animal is known for its ease to adapt to a knew environment once captured. The initial days in captivity are greeted with a seemingly calm animal in the day, and a very active one, vigorously searching for how to escape at night. But amidst this, is an organism that is less likely to bite.
It is the young that are most interesting! Young animals that are trained at home to adults are calm, gentle, and very friendly. They feed on common food stuffs available in the house and behave like loyal friends. You do not have to worry about them wondering into the wild. They could go walking outside and return back to their housing. But its use as a pet is being controlled in the US because it is believed to be a carrier of Monkey pox.
Use Of The African Giant Pouched Rat To Detect Tuberculosis And Mines
The giant African Rat is in the center stage of the APOPO's HeroRATs project in Mozambique, that could extend to Angola, Congo, and Zambia. The rats are being used to sniff TNT and detect mines by digging every spot suspected to contain mines. The rat is preferred to dogs because it is more economical in terms of food, transportation and space; and also its lighter weight that may not be enough to detonate the Bombs. The APOPO project is also being extended to TB detection where the rat can be used to sniff sputum sample, thus reducing the cost and complexity of medical laboratory diagnosis.
The African Giant Pouched Rat As A Source Of Meat And Protein
The African Giant rat is a great source of meat and protein in the rural areas of African countries where it is found. In Nigeria for instance, it is regarded as one of the various animals that are categorised as Bush-meat. Bush-meat are meat derived from any animal that are hunted from the wild. Fresh Bush-meat are not popular in open markets. Only the dried ones are readily available, except in rare occasions.
The giant pouched rat, with other bush-meat such as Antelope and Grasscutter, are usually sold to travellers by village road-sides of highways where various sizes are seen hunged on sticks.
Although Bush-meat are the main source of animal protein for villagers, they are a meat of class for those in the urban areas. They are very expensive and reserved for special events and occasions.
The African Giant Rat is very fleshy with giant lap bigger and more massive than that of a chicken. It also has a very pleasant aroma with taste usually characteristics of its main sources of food. For example, those that feed on Nuts are larger and taste better than those that feeds more on roots such as cassava.
Prospect for commercial Farming Of The African Giant Pouched Rat
Commercial Farming of the African Giant Rat is not popular. What is popular is that, small-scale rearing are taking place in private homes around rural areas. Hunters have learnt to keep and feed them in metal cages. They resorted to this means to maximise their catch which usually includes the young that are not eatable.
Rearing in cages have shown to be a success even with limited spaces. What is most surprising is how this animal adapts to their immediate human environment. Hunters are known to release them to walk freely after some years in the cage. The ability for the animal to adapt has sparked up a need to consider large-scale farming for meat and protein. But an ethical question that borders on morals behind breeding and eating such a pleasant animal, remains.
More Informations on the African Giant Pouched Rat can be found here:
- African Giant Rat | Rodent | Africa...
The Giant African Rat has a long tail, which is bare with a white tip. The body is covered with a buffy-grey, relatively long fur whereas the underparts are slightly paler...