If any pet could play the part of the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland, it would be the fat-tailed gerbil or duprasi, a sleepy, chubby, distant relative of the more common Mongolian gerbil.
Native to the rocky desert regions of northern Africa, the duprasi has only recently been introduced into the United States pet trade and, if breeders can have more success than they’ve had in breeding these animals (the only time they seem to become difficult is when they’re breeding), they should become very popular pets.
From all accounts there’s probably not a more docile rodent around. These animals can be held easily and sometimes are so nonchalant about it that they’ll fall asleep on their backs in the palm of a person’s hand.
Duprasis grow to four to five inches and look a more like hamsters than gerbils with their pointed fox-like snouts. They have fluffy light brown coats of a soft fur more like a chinchilla than a gerbil, white bellies and black eyes.
Their most distinguishing feature is, of course, a short, fat, pink, fuzz-coated tail. A healthy duprasi has a thick tail that holds fat and water like a camel’s hump. A duprasi with a thin tail is either a mother that has been nursing or an animal that is not eating properly.
Because they are able burrowers, even more so than gerbils, a 24-inch aquarium is a good container in which to house them. Cover the bottom with anywhere from two to four inches of wood shavings (not cedar) or paper shavings.
They like to climb, so make sure that the top of the aquarium fits snugly. Use a wire mesh top because, like the rest of the members of their family, they like to chew and can chomp through plastic. They will burrow into cardboard or PVC tubes placed in their habitat.
They will use a hamster wheel, but they can be clumsy and have a tendency to fall off. Provide them with an occasional dust bath of sand placed in a bowl to allow them to clean their fur.
Duprasis are insectivorous in their natural habitat. Feed them gerbil or hamster food, but also give them treats of crickets or mealworms to provide them with the needed additional protein.
Fat-tailed gerbils are docile, good-natured animals that are just a little hard to find.