Jerboas are really cool rodents, but do they make a good pet? Huge ears, bushy tails, kangaroo legs, teeny tiny faces, and huge eyes make them a pretty winning combo for cute. It’s easy to see why someone could fall in love with these rodents.
Unfortunately, if you live in the US, it is not possible to get a jerboa for legal reasons. Since 2003, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has banned most imports of jerboas. There have been some attempts to breed them, but they have been largely unsuccessful, making them not a good option for a pet.
Very disappointing, but jerboas have had a complicated history as an imported exotic pet in the United States. Even if they were legal, they would be more difficult to care for than a run of the mill small rodent. They are best left in the wild, but currently do face threats due to habitat loss and human activity.
Legal Status of Jerboas
The main issue with obtaining a jerboa, is that since 2003 there has been a restriction on the importation of African rodents. This was in response due to an outbreak of monkey pox, and these animals were banned with the exception of scientific research exemptions.
Jerboas hail from Asia to northern Africa. They favor arid and sandy habitats, like the Gobi desert which can be both very hot and cold.
They are difficult to breed in captivity, though there have been some efforts to do so and make them available more safely in the US. If you are thinking about the ethics of owning an exotic pet, there are concerns over owning any animal which must be wild-caught, as this can deplete wild populations.
Characteristics of a Jerboa
Jerboas take cues from several well known animals. They have mouse-like head and body, cat-like whiskers, eyes like owls, jackrabbit ears, kangaroo back legs, prairie dog forelegs, and a giant tufted tails.
They are usually 2-6 inches, covered in silky fur and sandy colored, like their desert home. Their hind legs are four times longer than their forelegs and allow them to take great leaps. Their toes can be likened to snow shoes, they may have 3 or four toes that are broad to keep them from sinking in the sand and allow them to get a grip. This also makes them well adapted to digging burrows and handling their food. Leaping about actually helps them raise their body temperature and as long as they have enough food to sustain them, they can outrun the cold. Jerboas can run up to 16 miles an hour. When not running they may simply walk upright or have shorter hops.
Jerboas are generally solitary creatures. Like other rodents, they may care for their young until they are weaned. They typically breed twice in the summer and have 2-6 babies within 25-35 days.
Their tail is typically longer than their body and is used for support and balance.
Keeping a Jerboa
Jerboas may be small, but their needs are large! They can jump up to 3 feet and have a mighty kick, meaning they need a lot of space. They need live vegetation and a replication of their home environment. As desert creatures, jerboa will often meet their water needs by eating plants, though fruits are suitable. Another cute thing jerboas will do is take a sand bath! With the absence of water, jerboas will seek out loose sand and use it to clean themselves.
When keeping them in an enclosure, they would need at least 6 feet due to their propensity to jump and can cover a lot of ground very quickly! They have been known to cover 6 miles a night and despite their size might get quite bored in anything smaller.
Jerboa’s Threatened Status
Due to loss of habitat loss and human activity, jerboas are not yet endangered but are threatened. Hailing from North Africa, China, and Mongolia, they thrive in both hot and cold desserts and will live about 6 years.
They have adapted well to the desert environment. Their large ears and hopping ability is shared from desert creatures small and large. they can tolerate extreme temperatures and little water. The jumping lets them move quickly away from predators across largely open areas and evade danger.
In the wild, jerboa can live about 6 years, but this can be greater reduced in captivity. Due to human habitation, it has been suggested they have reduced their population as much as eighty percent in the last 10 years.
Jerboa’s Pet Trade
While restricted in the US, they are commonly traded in other countries, mostly Asia and the UK. There are actually 33 species of jerboa! However, the most common creeds are the Lesser Egyptian Jerboa and the Greater Egyptian Jerboa. Other species include the pygmy jerboa and four-toed jerboa, but have become very scare.
Imports of jerboas has been complicated due to political issues from their home environment.
The biggest issue with trading jerboas is that they are very difficult to breed in captivity. they need quite a large amount of space and that space must be greatly expanded for jerboas to be able to breed. Otherwise they must be wild caught, which is more difficult and raises ethical concerns.
The only other option would be re-homing older animals, which is of course restricted to pet owners that are looking to release their animal.
Jerboa’s in the Wild
In the wild, jerboas move across the dessert like mini, rodent kangaroos. They can normally hop 10-13 cm and can even get up to 3m when threatened!
These quick hopping jerboas, in a typical night, will glide across the desert sand to gobble up their food and move on before a predator has a chance to close in. They are nocturnal, so mainly come out at night when the desert is cool and still.
They use a zig-zag trajectory, so this combined with their enormous hops makes them avid evaders for those that would make them their prey. Unfortunately, this does mean they use a lot of resources and is not very energy efficient. They need to make sure they locate enough food to propel them on their late night excursions.
It could be argued that jerboas have evolved to live well in the wild, with their fossil evidence of their evolutionary history dating back over 11 million years in north Africa and Asia.
Jerboas have one of the largest ear-to-body ratios found in animals. This is a common trait of desert animals as it helps them keep cool. As blood move in the ear, this allows the heat to dissipate from the numerous blood vessels found in the skin.
As an adaptation to their desert life, an interesting thing about jerboas, is that they don’t drink water! They get all of their moisture from their food, mostly insects and plants.
The best diet for a jerboa includes fresh produce like kale, cucumber, carrots, bell pepper, parsley, and sprouts. Plants with a lot of moisure are best!
You can also include things like millet, hay, and bird food mixes to help with digestion as long as the jerboa is getting enough water.
In the wild the jerboa’s habitat is the great wide desert, so you can imagine it is difficult to replicate at home. Jerboas are most happy with large amounts of space, sand, something to snack on, and saftey from predators.
Those that keep jerboas will have large enclosures or even better, giant habitats that really let them leap and run! Jerboas can jump up to 3 feet and have a mighty kick when startled.
Enclosures should also include housing that allows digging. In the wild jerboas are swift diggers and will create elaborate burrows to hide from predators and store food, so habitats that encourage this persuit is preferred. By living underground, they escape both heat and cold.
Live vegetation is even better to help simulate their dessert home.
A UK Mascot
Jerboas were even a mascot for Britain during the second World War! Britain’s 7th armored brigade were called “the desert rats”. The general Micheal O-Moore-Creagh wanted his troops to pop up, look around, and then pop back down, just like jerboas in their natural habitats