6 June 2018

Rwanda: HIV Positive Man Feeds on Hamsters to Stay Healthy

In his fight against HIV/AIDS, 72-year-old Tharcisse Polepole, from Rugarama Cell in Nyamirambo Sector, eats hamsters which he says keeps him healthy.

He met this reporter on a bus on the way to Nyamirambo, and the two planned to meet for a story at his compound on a Thursday.

During the visit, he was found in his backyard feeding his animals, a vocation he has taken up on a full-time basis after retirement from public service.

He owns cows, goats, chicken and ducks.

During the interview, Polepole said that he had served in the military for 18 years and then served as a warden with the current Rwanda Correctional Services and was posted to Nyarugenge prison, commonly known as 1930.

Located in downtown Kigali, the infamous 1930, which was officially called Nyarugenge Prison, has since been relocated to Mageregere, also in Nyarugenge District.

It's in 2009 that he tested positive for HIV/AIDS and decided to join Abanyamurava, an association of people living with HIV in Nyamirambo suburb of Nyarungenge District.

Through their association, they later decided to domesticate hamsters as part of their diet and business at the same time.

"We came up with the idea of domesticating hamsters as one member who has a medical background had informed us about the meat from hamsters which is effective in the protection of antibodies. Yes, I eat the meat regularly to stay healthy. We got the first ones in Muhanga District," Polepole said.

When the hamsters had reproduced, over 800 members of the association received two hamsters each to grow the business and ensure their safety as cats had started killing some when they were all still at Polepole farm.

"The president of the association is a nurse and had read about this meat's richness in protein that we need to stay alive. He's the one who introduced the animal to us and we did not hesitate to include it in our meals. But, that does not mean it's a cure, because we keep taking ARVs," he added.

The father of seven children, all married, says that when he does not have the hamster's meat on the table, he makes sure he eats properly with lots of fruits and vegetables rich in protein.

"Whoever has noticed the importance of eating this meat always wants to raise them. There might be people out there who think that eating hamsters is against our culture and we cannot stop them from saying what they want to. We are just encouraged by research which has proved their importance to human health," Polepole said.

For him, eating hamsters is normal as he says that even hotels and some restaurants in Kigali used to purchase rodents from their association.

"These are not rats though some wrongly perceive them to be European rats," he said.

Hamsters are mammals and one costs about Rwf1000. They can breed up to four babies per year.

Hamsters are more crepuscular than nocturnal and, in the wild, remain underground during the day to hide from predators. They feed primarily on seeds, fruits, and vegetation, and will occasionally eat burrowing insects.

As one of their more prominent characteristics, they have elongated cheek pouches extending to their shoulders, which they use to carry food back to their burrows.

The best-known species of hamster is the golden or Syrian hamster scientifically named "Mesocricetus auratus", which is the type most commonly kept as pets. It is also sometimes called a "fancy" hamster.

The pet trade and fanciers have given names to several colour variations, including "honey bear", "panda bear", "black bear", to name a few.

Although the Syrian hamster or golden hamster was first described scientifically by George Robert Waterhouse in 1839, researchers say they were not successfully bred and domesticated until 1939.


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