Windfall from bamboo rats
XIAO Ling, 38, a farmer in Hongxing community, a village in Chengmagang, Hubei province, brought in 117 mating pairs of bamboo rats to start his breeding operation.
The rats are expected to produce babies early next year, bringing their numbers up to 600 and earning about 60,000 yuan (about RM37,000) in profits by the middle of next year.
Xiao has just attended a training course in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
“It is an emerging industry with only a few people handling the business,” Xiao said.
The meat of the bamboo rat can be used as food or medicine, and its fur can be used in clothing. Currently, raising bamboo rats has low risk and high economic value, he said.
“Bamboo rats are well-known in some regions of South China, but in Hubei few people know about them, not to mention raising them to make money.”
Xiao had left his home and worked in cities for more than a decade. To take care of sick family members, he returned home in 2011 and started a pig farm, also raising a few cattle, sheep and chickens.
However, pork prices were low, and it was hard to stay in business.
The turning point came in 2015, when charity organisation Heifer International conducted its poverty relief programme in Macheng.
Another example of getting a windfall from bamboo rats is Shi Beidan.
She has 2,000 bamboo rats that she plans to sell, and is fattening them up with bamboo to be eaten or turned into fur coats
The rats can grow up to 50 centimetres in length and four kg in weight, and its meat costs four times more than chicken or pork and twice that of beef.
Among some communities, the meat is also viewed as a cure for baldness. It is especially favoured as a winter dish.
The raising of bamboo rats is sweeping across the region, with cash-strapped farmers turning to breeding the rats as a new source of income. And it is becoming big business.
Congjiang county already has 18 bamboo rat farms, and it is planning to expand that number to 20 in 2013.
Bamboo rats are a species of rodent that are found in the eastern half of Asia.
A pair of well-kept breed bamboo rats can sell for between 600 and 900 Chinese yuan.
And they reproduce rapidly with three to four litters of two to five offspring a year.
The Chinese bamboo rat is solitary, except during the breeding season. It breeds all year round, with a spring peak; litters of two to four young (eight maximum) are born naked, and are weaned at three months.
Territory is marked by four to seven soil mounds marking plugged entrances (20 to 40 cm high and 50 to 80 cm across). Burrows are 20 to 30 cm deep and up to 45 metres long.
Escape tunnels are always at the ready, loosely plugged with soil. The nest chamber is 20 to 25 cm across and is lined with bamboo leaves. Mostly, it feeds on bamboo shoots and roots, usually on the surface, and moves on after about a year as the food supply becomes depleted.
The Chinese bamboo rat has a very wide range, is common in some localities, is considered a plantation pest in parts of China, and is presumed to have a large total population. The main threat it faces is being hunted by man for food. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed it as being of “least concern”.