07/10/2007 (New Straits Times Online), KUALA LUMPUR - It’s no easy meal in the wild as any predator with a face full of razor-sharp quills will testify.
But Malaysians could soon be making a spikeless, danger-free dinner of the porcupine if a government-backed breeding programme is successful.
The Wildlife and National Parks department has helped set up five model farms to breed the Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura).
They estimate that the farmers will be able to sell the porcupines as breeding stock and for meat in about three years time.
The project is one of many under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to create new wealth from the country’s biodiversity, said the department’s Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin.
The porcupine is just one of several wildlife species that have been earmarked for commercial breeding, including the pangolin, mouse deer and barking deer.
Also on the list are the seladang, serow and pheasants.
The department has RM1.5 million in funding until next year, to carry out research and get breeding projects off the ground, said Zainal who is the principal assistant director of the ex-situ conservation division.
The projects are also partly funded by a grant from the Agro-Biotechnology Institute Malaysia.
Zainal said the three-year development period would allow farmers to build up a sustainable number of animals as breeding stock.
It would also give researchers at the department, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Mardi, time to research farm management and improve yield and nutrition.
Research has so far shown that this spiky rodent produces red meat with a protein level comparable to beef and mutton but with a lower fat content.
The levels of amino acids that are important in the wound healing process are high in the porcupine, as are the levels of essential fatty acids.
Only a few restaurants in the country have a licence to serve porcupine taken from the wild.
But the animal, protected under Malaysian law, has been overharvested from the wild to satisfy the demand for rare and exotic meat, said Zainal.
Captive breeding and game farming are being seen as a way to sustain wildlife with high economic potential outside their habitat for future release into the wild and to fulfil market demand.
However, wildlife groups are likely to bristle at the idea of commercially breeding the animal for fear that it will only give poachers an avenue to smuggle illegally caught wildlife into the legal system.
“There will always be people who will take advantage of a situation but we will step up monitoring.”
“Breeders will be licensed as will those who sell the meat at the market.
“Every animal we breed will also be implanted with a microchip,” said Zainal