Charitable giving to developing countries has shown a new trend in recent years with ‘send a cow’, and ‘send a goat’- schemes supporting the supply of said livestock to farmers in Africa. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the latest is- ‘send a rat’. A rat?

However for reducing food insecurity farming-rats and small mammals -called minilivestock farming has been under study for a while. Cane rats (Thryonomys swinderianus) could have some advantages. They are big -nearly 2-3 kg and they are a delicacy in Africa and so command a good price in the market. The rats can be grown in a backyard, reducing the need to hunt wild animals and they are cheap and easy to feed they also reproduce relatively fast- a litter of 4-5 every 5 months. Another big advantage is they can apparently be reared in Tse tse fly infested areas where cattle are vulnerable to disease.

As well as improving food security by supplying these rats, the charity involved (Send a cow) hopes to decrease hunting of wild mammals (bushmeat) for food. Hunting bushmeat has a number of drawbacks, not least the extinction of the species involved and contact with zoonotic diseases.

Does it make sense nutritionally? Well, looking on CAB Abstracts I found a paper that showed that the meat is low cholesterol compared to goat meat and beef. Barbecued rat anyone?

Further reading:

Ecological implications of minilivestock: potential of insects, rodents, frogs and snails. Editor: Paoletti, M. G. Science Publishers, Inc.2005, 648 pages. An overview of the important areas in which minilivestock has been a relevant resource as a key base for protein, fat, minerals and vitamins in human diets, especially of those living in the tropics (Africa, Central and South America, China, Southeast Asia, Australia and Japan) is presented; these areas include sustainability, environmental protection and food supply and security. Indigenous knowledge on the use of insects, rodents, frogs and snails (minilivestock) in food or traditional medicine in different parts of the world is also discussed.

Meat quality and carcass characteristics of the vondo, Thryonomys swinderianus. Zyl, A. van , Merwe, M. van der , Blignaut, A. S. South African Journal of Animal Science, 1999, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 120-123, 10 ref. Vondos (cane rats), maintained from birth on a higher or lower fibre diet, were slaughtered when postnatal growth curves flattened off. Males tended to be larger than females. The meat of females tended to have higher lipid (9.2 g/100 g fresh mass) and energy (767 J/100 g fresh mass) contents than males. The cholesterol content of vondo meat was low (48.5-53.4 mg/100 g fresh mass) compared with values for beef and goat meat. The two diets did not affect carcass characteristics and meat quality significantly.

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