In from the cold

Interesting facts about gerbils

source: Justine Hankins
Guardian Weekend June 21 2003 p107

Gerbils are burrowing rodents that are found in the wild in central Asia, some parts of China, the Middle East and North Africa. There are some 90 species of gerbil, though most pet gerbils are Mongolian gerbils. They were sent to the UK and US during the 1950s and were used as laboratory animals, and were then adopted as pets. The National Gerbil Society was set up in 1970. Gerbils do not bite, and stay awake in the daytime. They do not smell much, since they don't urinate a lot, being desert animals. These characteristics mean that they make good pets. They can, however, breed fast.

There was an attempt by Israeli security agents at Tel Aviv airport to train gerbils to detect suspicious characters, since they can easily smell sweaty people. The gerbils used for this work, however, were unable to detect the intent of sweaty people. Some of the sweaty people simply had heavy luggage, and were not planning hijacks.