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Mammals of Southern Africa

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A Guide to the: Greater Cane Rat - Thryonomys swinderianus

Among South African rodents, the Greater Cane Rat is second in size and mass only to the porcupine.  Its body is bulky and covered in bristly hair; its head is large, while its tail and legs are short.  Its name suggests both its habitat and its diet:  grasses, rushes, reeds and sugar cane.  Cane rats inflict such damage on sugar cane plantations that farmers avidly protect the python which preys on it. The greater cane rat also shows a fondness for other crops such as maize, millet, sweet potatoes, pineapples and groundnuts.  It is mostly a nocturnal animal, and constructs shelters of flattened reeds or grasses deep within thickets: there are often well-worn paths, marked by piles of chopped grass and droppings, that lead to their foraging sites. Greater cane rats are generally reported to be solitary animals, but small groups of 8 - 10 may live in an area of reedbed.

When they are alarmed, the rat gives a whistling call and thumps the ground with its hindfeet.  They then scurry away, to freeze a few moments later when they feel they are out of danger.  Pythons, birds of prey, small carnivores and leopards prey on greater cane rats.  Man too hunts them and savours them as an excellent, protein rich food: the greater cane rat appears high on the menus of restaurants in parts of West Africa. Average litter size is four, and the young are precocial: they are born fully-haired with open eyes, and are capable of following their mother an hour after birth.

More facts about Greater Cane Rats

Learn more about the mammal species of Southern Africa with Wildlife Campus. This includes in-depth information about habitat, spoor, droppings, ecology...

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