By Dr Tony Monda
IN times of economic austerity, as those being experienced in Zimbabwe today, young astute entrepreneurs are at their brightest and most innovative.
One such young indigenous Zimbabwean livestock entrepreneur is Kelvin Ngonidzashe Chisuko, whose rabbit rearing project is gathering momentum on the local markets in the northern suburbs of Harare, Domboshava and the environs.
Due to the ever-rising cost of commercial beef, since 2017, the various diseases plaguing the national herd, resulting in irregular supplies of beef from abattoirs, rabbit meat is fast becoming a popular alternative. Rabbit meat is a rich and tasty source of protein and unsaturated fats for Zimbabwean consumers.
In these days of GMOs, it is the safest meat to consume; the meat has the least cholesterol level,retards obesity,is good for sufferers of high blood pressure (PB)and for athletes.
The young entrepreneur’s passion for commercial rabbit breading distinguishes him from many livestock breeders.
Chisuko, who has always nurtured a passion for rabbits, began his project in February 2019. He views rabbit breeding as a revival of an old indigenous tradition practiced from the early Iron Age in Zimbabwe.
Worldwide, there are over 150 different species of wild rabbits.
Oryctolagus cuniculus, or the Old Wild rabbit in Western Europe and Northern Africa, is the ancestor of the present domesticated breeds.
In Zimbabwe, there are five breeds: Inyanga Brown, Matopos Black, Angora, the Albino White and Rhodesian Chinchilla rabbit, often confused for the South American rodent – the chinchillidae, due to their likeness in their coat of soft grey fur.
Pronolagus randensis, the name given to our indigenous tsuro by the colonisers, were a favourite of Leander Starr Jameson, Cecil John Rhodes’ friend and companion, who kept and reared them for their meat – it is the only true indigenous rabbit found in Zimbabwe.
The tsuro, as it is known in Shona, and umvundhla in Ndebele, has a long and renowned reputation; they have an incredible sense of sight, smell and reflexes.
It was believed that by eating rabbit meat one would run faster, see better, fight better and develop good scent.
In fact, boxer Mike Tyson, besides chicken, is reputed to eat rabbit meat for strength and good health.
The saying: ‘Wamutsa tsuro…,’ was to open the hunt.
For the children of hunters, to catch a rabbit was part of the daily routine; one was not considered a hunter if he had not at least caught a rabbit.
Both rabbits and chickens formed the main part of our traditional diet.
The importance of domesticated rabbit meat for human consumption is appreciated extensively throughout the world.
Large-scale rabbit production has been practiced for many years in Europe and the US, with very high standards of husbandry.
Apart from being a good source of meat, traditionally, rabbits provided pelts used for clothes, rugs and bed coverings; manure, a valuable organic fertiliser and, with some breeds, even wool.
Zimbabwe’s new breed of entrepreneur, Chisuko, practises selective breeding and a diversified feeding programme to produce the best quality meat and to gain optimum weight.
While the indigenous wild rabbit, which feeds on veld grass and wild vegetables, normally reaches weights of 2-3kg, Chisuko’s rabbits reach a maximum of 5kg; although he prefers to sell them at early maturity, when the taste and succulence of the meat is at optimum.
Chisuko, who lives a hedge-hop from the Domboshava Caves complex, rears Occidental rabbit breeds such as the California and the New Zealand breeds; both renowned for their commercial viability and succulent taste.
He has found a ready market for his product at the Caves Restaurant that serves rabbit meat as a delicacy.
Chisuko says of his product: “Although Zimbabwe has a rich rabbit culture in oral and local traditions, there has been consumer resistance to the meat, especially among younger urbanised Zimbabweans. I am now reviving an old livestock tradition.”
Operating from a restricted space of only 50m2, he ensures the rabbitry hatches are kept in good order for the comfort of the rabbits. Rabbits live an average 5-10 years, with a potential life span of 15 years. Males reach breeding age at 6-10 months of age, and females at 5-9 months of age. Pregnancy lasts 29-35 days (average of 31-32 days) and litters average 4-10 bunnies or more.
In their natural environment, rabbits are gregarious.
They are completely herbivorous (they eat only plants) and most actively forage in the twilight or nighttime hours.
Rabbits use their claws to dig and burrow into the ground for shelter and protection.
They rarely stand their ground when threatened but instead use their considerable speed and maneuverability to escape harm.
Rabbits are small, clean and make excellent pets; their fussy nature, unaggressive behaviour and quiet manner make them increasingly popular house pets.
However, rabbits kept in captivity can display a remarkable degree of aggression when upset or threatened.
Some breeds have many varieties based on colour differences and ranging in mature size from roughly 1kg to 7,25kg.
While Chisuko’s rabbits are one hundred percent disease free, rabbits, like all livestock, can suffer from infections and diseases that require veterinary attention.
These include abscesses, respiratory disease and pasteurellosis. The bacterium pasteurella multocida is a major infectious agent, often transmitted among infected does (females) and their litters or between breeding males and females.
The bacteria usually resides in the nose, lungs and eye membranes, but can spread to other areas of the body. The infection may become incurable if untreated or improperly treated.
Abscesses include pasteurella multocida and staphylococcus aureus. Most respiratory diseases of rabbits are caused by the bacterium pasteurella multocida, though other bacteria are often involved and must be aggressively treated with an appropriate antibiotic. Respiratory signs often include sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, eye discharge, listlessness, inappetence and pneumonia.
Eye infections are also relatively common extensions of sinus infections in rabbits and should be treated aggressively with systemic and topical antibiotics.
Thus, sanitation is essential and very important that the rabbit housing is kept clean.
Chisuko, was born on May 11 1997.
“Rabbits respond to kind treatment. They are easy to workwith and are fun to watch. Raising them can even be a way to make money; but requires careful selection, good equipment, careful sanitation and planned mating,” advises Chisuko.
“When choosing your rabbits, select and buy the best doe (female rabbit) or does and the best buck (male rabbit) from a rabbitry that has a good reputation, practices good sanitation and keeps production records. Also follow a breeding programme that will produce the proper type of rabbit for the respective breed.”
Hardworking and independent, Chisuko’s admirable efforts prove that young indigenous livestock entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe deserve access to land.
Not only are they more techno-savvy and dedicated, they have more physical stamina to undertake new farming ventures, for Zimbabwe’s future food security, employment opportunities and posterity.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer anda specialist Post-Colonial Scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com