Overview of Pouched Rats
Gambian pouched rats are very large rats native to central Africa, also known as the African giant pouched rat. They would naturally be found in regions south of the Sahara desert and can adapt to a variety of habitats. They do require shelter such as hollow trees, rock outcroppings or burrows. Where their range overlaps human habitation they can be regarding as pests. Gambian pouched rats are famously used to sniff out unexploded landmines and tuberculosis in Mozambique, Tanzania and Thailand. A separate species of pouched rat called the Emins pouched rat is also available, although very rare, and is more slender in appearance than the gambian.
Gambian pouched rats can grow up to 3ft in length, around half of which is composed of a long, unscaled tail. A typical adult would weight between 1-1.4kg and live for 5-7 years. Unfortunately some issues within the UK have lead to a shortened lifespan and difficultly obtaining unrelated animals. Other issues, such as seizures, have arisen within captive animals.
They are not true rats, but are part of an african branch of muroid rodents. Their name comes from their large, hamster-like cheek pouches used for storing and transporting food.
Gambian pouched rats are nocturnal and very intelligent. They do need a lot of effort put into taming down a youngster, and it can be very difficult to tame a wilder adult. Their large size and powerful bite do not make them a good exotic for a beginner, or someone without the time to invest in them daily. Even a well handled pup can change temperament upon sexual maturity or as an adult. It is vital to know the background and family of your gambian pouched rat and do a lot of research before deciding on one as a pet.
Obviously Gambian pouched rats will need a very large cage, with metal bars and a metal bottom to aid cleaning. Cages such as the Abode, Explorer, Ferplast Duetto or Furet Tower are a good size. You may however need to replace the plastic trays with metal or wood. They will need a great deal of mental stimulation such as parrot toys, games to hide food, climbing material, bedding and nesting sites. They must have regular time outside their cage and some people do even walk them outside on a small lead.
Gambian pouched rats are omnivorous, feeding on a range of fruits, vegetables, nuts and insects. They will store their food so keepers will need to check their cage frequently, especially after offering fresh.
Gambian pouched rats require a high level of care, attention and experience. They have a high price tag and are not readily available. Genetic issues in the UK mean it is inadvisable to breed them without years of experience and they can inflict some very nasty wounds to an unwary owner. For the right owner, who has the time, experience and money to meet their complex needs, they can make excellent pets.