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By Julian Barker
First appeared in the June 2001 isue of the NGS Journal
Cheesman's Gerbil (Gerbillus cheesmani) has started to appear in the UK as a pet. It is a typical Gerbillus species, very like the Pallid Gerbil (G. perpallidus) that has been available as a pet in the UK for at least ten years, in colour, behaviour and general appearance.
The most obvious difference is the length of the almost naked tail. Pallid gerbils have a tail a little longer than the head and body, Cheesman's gerbils have a tail significantly longer, maybe 30% longer than the head and body length. Cheesemans Gerbil is also a little smaller than a Pallid Gerbil, although not as small as a Lesser Egyptian Gerbil (G. gerbillus)
In temperament Cheesman's gerbils are very placid, being both inquisitive and apparently totally unafraid of humans. They are easy to handle, and never seem to bite. They can be cared for much like Mongolian Gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus), and like their Pallid cousins they do enjoy insect food, but that is not essential.
Cheesman's Gerbils come from the whole of the Arabian Peninsular and the sandy areas of Southern Iraq, Southern Iran, Pakistan and extending into South Western Afghanistan. They live in shifting sand dunes and dried out mudflats. It has been described as very well camouflaged for sandy habitats. If the gerbil freezes, it effectively disappears from sight!
They are not very social. They tend to nest separately in the wild, but in captivity live happily in small groups. Their burrows tend to be clustered in groups of two or three, but each burrow is separate with few chambers. The nesting chamber, where the gerbil takes refuge from the heat of the day, and the cold of night can be up to 1.25 metres (four feet) deep.
They are quite agile, and have been observed climbing to the top of 600mm (two foot) high shrubs to feed on the seed heads. Seeds and plant material constitute most of their diet. It is not known if they eat insects In the wild, but, based on their behaviour in captivity, they probably do.
Studies in their native habitat suggest that Cheesman's Gerbils breed in winter. They can survive in areas with quite cold winters and often occupy desert areas well above 1000 metres (3000 feet) in height.
In general they are nocturnal in habit, although they do forage in the late afternoon. In captivity they wake and eagerly explore any interruption like Mongolian Gerbils do.
Unlike many other gerbils Cheesmans are not an economic pest
because they live in areas to hostile for agriculture. Despite their remote
habitat, they are known to have many predators including Sand Cats (Felis
margareta), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Owls (Athene noctua and
Otus brucei) and Snakes (Eristochophis mcmahonii and Sphalerosophis
MAMMALS OF SAUDI ARABIA - ON A COLLECTION OF RODENTIA FROM
SAUDI ARABIA: BŁttiker and Harrison D L., 1982, FAUNA OF SAUDI ARABIA, 4,
The NGS also has a complete list of gerbil species including distribution.
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Last updated 31 August 2005