Globally, wildlife has great potentials for meat production and serves as an important source of the highly desired animal protein to the people of Africa, both in urban areas and rural communities (Fonweban and Njiwe, 1990). The preference for such merit or the meat of commercially available game animals is widely accepted (Baptist and Mengah, 1986). However, with ever increasing human population and obvious protein shortage in Africa, there is the need for an exploration of other means to provide readily accepted meat or short terms basis.
Among the wild rodents, the cane rat, or cane rat or cane cutter is the most preferred (Goffey, 1981). Cane rat (Thryonomys swinderianus) is a wild hystricomophic rodent widely distributed in the African sub-region and exploited in most areas as a source of animal protein (NRC, 1991). Being the most preferred and one of the most expensive meats in West Africa including Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana and Cote d’ Voire (Baptist and Mensah, 1998; Asibey and Addo, 2000), it constitutes to both local and export earning of most West Africa countries (NRC, 1991; Yeboah and Adamu, 1995). To alleviate this problem, attempts are being made in the sub-regional to domesticate the grass cutter (NRC, 1991; Addo, 2002) and make it more readily available, gain economic benefit and also reduce the environmental destruction that accompanies its collection from the wild.
Efficiently producing grass cutters in captivity demands that adequate nutrition is provided to ensure high productivity. However, grass cutter especially in the dry season poses a major challenge to produce in Nigeria. Despite the role cane rat rearing plays in the livelihood of most Nigerians and the contribution to the daily protein intake, if continued, cane rat meat causes a source of food-borne illnesses especially under the condition in which animals are handled, slaughtered, transported and sold in Nigerian markets. Prescott, et al., (2002) shown that food items especially meat, are not only of high nutritional value to those who consume them but often are ideal culture media for microbial growth, meat is one of the most perishable foods, indicates composition is ideal for growth of a wide range of spoilages bacteria (Mayr, et al., 2003).
Mukhopadhyay et al., (2009) also reported that fresh raw meat like cane rat meat has been implicated for a number of meat born infections and intoxications in several countries. This is because both pathogenic and non-pathogenic organisms live in the gastro intestinal tract (GIT) of cane rat which can be transformed onto the meat under faulty and poor processing conditions. The advocacy for domestication of cane rat becomes stronger as it accepts indoor housing with about 90% of animals acclimatizing to domestic housing within three months (Asibey and Addo, 2000), with the acceptability of the meat among Nigerians, regardless of their religious of faith and social status further underscores the importance of domesticating this animal. Due to the insatiable demand for the cane rat meat, some people have resorted to use poisons as bait to catch wild cane rat and this poses a serious health threat.
The inadequate supply of animal protein in developing countries has been attributed to inadequate production and high cost of conventional sources of animals protein (poultry, goat, meat, beef, mutton and pork) and cane rat meat, hence, an average Nigerian consumes only about a quarter of his minimum daily protein requirement (Oke, et al., 2004). To this end there has been increase in the consumption of bush meat. This increase has bridged the supply and demand protein gap (Abulude, 2004).
The objectives of this study are to:
1. Determine the microbial status of fresh cane rat
2. Determine the critical control points at which microbes are likely to contaminate the fresh cane rat along processing line.
3. Isolate, identify and characterize the microorganisms present in the fresh cane rat during processing.