Humans have been known to go to great extremes to guarantee the survival of their species when threatened. Time has given us the luxury of experience to appreciate this as a fact of life – one only needs to watch DStv appreciate this.

What we cannot begin to fathom or even grapple with, however, is that the same tendencies are resident in the wild! New evidence is now revealing, for the first time, that this disturbing trend in humans is indeed also manifested in wild animals.

For a long time, scientists have believed that the African crested rat, also known as the maned rat, was poisonous. New evidence now reveals a chilling reality.

Researchers at the National Museums of Kenya, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Oxford have now established that the Crested rat actually collects poison from the Msunguti or Arrow poison tree (Acokanthera schimperi) and coats itself in it as a defence mechanism!

The rat chews up the bark of the tree which releases a compound called ouabain that is highly poisonous and rubs the saliva on its flanks which have perforated hair that soak up the poison.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, animals that try to eat the Crested rat end up dying of heart failure. Ironically, the same killer compound is used to treat congestive heart failure!

The tree is common in Machakos, Ongata-Rongai, Oloosaiyeti hill in Kajiado, Rumuruti in Laikipia, Loita, and Chepelion, in north Baringo. Elephant hunters in East Africa have also been known to use ouabain in their hunts.

The rats studied were collected from Laikipia but the species can be found all over the dry highlands of the country. Dogs that ate the rat lost coordination frothed at the mouth and showed signs of general distress or collapsed and died quickly from heart failure.

It is not yet clear to researchers how the rodent is able to chew up the poisonous material without getting sick or dying itself. But one thing is clear – it uses it effectively in keeping predators at bay. Is that not homicide in the wild?

Do you know of any other animal that commits homicide to survive?