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Rats: if you can’t beat them eat them! (Tricks of the trade observed among the Adi and other North-East Indian tribals)

Meyer-Rochow, Victor Benno, Megu, Karsing, Chakravorty, Jharna
Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine 2015 v.11 no.1 pp. 45
Bandicota bengalensis, Mus musculus, Rattus rattus, biological control, deforestation, females, global warming, humans, interviews, legs, livestock production, males, meat, poisoning, rare species, rats, rodenticides, soil erosion, tail, trade, traditional technology, traps, wild animals, India
BACKGROUND: Since outside the tribal areas of North-East India it is not widely known, neither in the world nor in India itself, that rats are considered a delicious food item, this was one of several reasons why we decided to present this ethnographic account of rat procurement and preparation (together with some additional comments on the cultural role that rats have especially amongst members of the Adi tribe). Consumption of rats by humans as a biological control method far superior to the use of rodenticide poisoning and rat consumption as a way to reduce hunting pressure on rare wild animals were further considerations to publish this account. METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with male and female members of eight tribal communities in Arunachal Pradesh (North-East India) on the uses of rats as food and as cultural objects. The construction of rat traps as well as the preparation of rat dishes were observed and recorded photographically. RESULTS: Numerous species of small rodents, collectively called “rats” by the locals of North-East Indian tribes and comprising the species Rattus rattus Linnaeus, R. nitidus Hodgson, R. burrus Miller, R. tanezumi Temminck as well as Bandicota bengalensis Gray and Hardwicke, B. indica Bechstein, and Mus musculus Linnaeus, are regularly trapped and consumed in roasted, cooked or smoked form. In this well-illustrated report the kinds of devices used to catch these animals are described and information is provided on how to prepare rats for human consumption. The role that rats as food and gift-exchange items play in the context of local culture is explained and the locals’ most highly appreciated meat dish, known as bule-bulak oying and consisting of boiled rat’s tail, legs and inner organs, is introduced. CONCLUSION: Given the need to meet the world’s future food demands and the environmental consequences of an expanding livestock production with regard to global warming, water availability, deforestation, soil erosion etc., rats as a food item, as our example shows, should not be overlooked. Using rats as food reduces hunting pressures on other wild and often already rare animals. It is a far superior method to control rat populations than poisoning the rodents and the artisanal construction of rat traps by local menfolk helps maintaining traditional skills and knowledge.