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Cane rats
Fossil range: Eocene–Recent
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Thryonomys swinderianus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Suborder: Hystricomorpha
Infraorder: Hystricognathi
Parvorder: Phiomorpha
Family: Thryonomyidae
Pocock, 1922
Genus: Thryonomys
Fitzinger, 1867
Species

Thryonomys gregorianus (Lesser Cane Rat)
Thryonomys swinderianus (Greater Cane Rat)

The genus Thryonomys, also known as cane rats, grass cutters, or cutting grass, is a genus of rodent found throughout Africa south of the Sahara, the only members of the family Thyronomyidae. They are eaten in some African countries and are a pest species on many crops.

Contents

Characteristics

Cane rats range in body length from 35 to 60 centimetres. They commonly weigh 6-7 kilograms in captivity, and can obtain weights up to 10 kilograms in the wild. They are heavily-built rodents, with bristly brown fur speckled with yellow or grey. They live in marshy areas and along river and lake banks, and are herbivores, feeding on aquatic grasses in the wild. In agricultural areas they will also, as the name suggests, feed on the crops in cane plantations, making them a significant pest.[1]

Females give birth to litters of two to four young at least once a year, and more frequently in some areas.[1] Cane rats are sexually mature and able to reproduce at 6 months of age.

Relationship with humans

Cane rats are widely distributed and valued as a source of "bush meat" in West and Central Africa. Farmers also expend substantial energy fencing the rodents out their fields. Like the guinea pig, the meat is of a higher protein but lower fat content than domesticated farm meat and it is also appreciated for its tenderness and taste. In the past this animal was hunted extensively although, in the savanna area of West Africa, people have traditionally captured wild cane rats and fattened them in captivity. More recently, intensive production of cane rats has been undertaken in countries such as Benin and Togo and agricultural extension services in Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zaire have also encouraged farmers to rear these rodents in rural and peri-urban areas. Research carried out over the last two decades has allowed the selection and improvement of stock for captivity and much of the knowledge and techniques for cane rat breeding has been determined from work carried out at the Benin-Germany breeding station, which was established in the mid-1980s. Practical information is now more readily available for farmers interested in cane rat breeding, but training is still advised.

Unlike other rodent species, the high exploitation of cane rats in the wild has not had a serious effect on its numbers. Some researchers postulate that their populations may actually be increasing due to deforestation and changing land use patterns in West Africa. Regardless, they have adapted to deforested areas and occur in close proximity to farmlands and people. However, there are areas where the species has been over-hunted and savanna habitat is often at risk during the dry season from bushfires, which are lit during bushmeat hunting expeditions. Cane rats are not the most prolific of rodent species, but the high demand, attractive market price, and the small amount of investment required makes cane rats a suitable mini-livestock activity for income generation in many parts of West and Central Africa.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Bishop, Ian (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. p. 703. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.  
  • Mathews, Jaman. "The Value of Grasscutters," World Ark, (January-February, 2008), pp. 23–24.

External links


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