Common names: Gambian rats, African pouched rats, African giant rats, Gambian pouched rats, Gambian giant pouched rats.
Life span: up to 8 years
Size: Gambian pouched rats can reach a total length of 30 inches or more - half made up by the tail
Weight: usually about 3-4 pounds
Distribution: Africa (fairly wide distribution south of the Sahara desert down to northern South Africa)
Habits: Gambian pouched rats are nocturnal and omnivorous. They have very large cheek pouches in which they gather food to take back to their nests.
Due to a monkeypox outbreak in 2003, the US government has prohibited the import and sale/trade of Gambian pouched rats.
Since Gambian pouched rats are relatively new to captivity they can be a bit more unpredictable than fancy rats and temperament can vary quite a bit between individuals. While they often can be good pets, there are some that remain skittish and/or become aggressive as they get older. However, with regular handling and training, most become quite friendly, gentle and easy to handle. They are very intelligent and playful, and seem to have a tendency to lick their owners, like belly rubs, and collect shiny objects and other treasures.
As youngsters, Gambian pouched rats often go through a nippy stage in play much like other pet animals, and need gentle training to break the habit (a firm "no" or loud "ouch" and an end to playtime if it recurs). Gambian rats will sometimes gently but firmly grasp you with their mouths (i.e. not a bite, just holding you) and try to push you away if they object to something. While some do like to be held and cuddled, others prefer not to be held (though still friendly).
Males are quite territorial and may be more aggressive than females, particularly around the time of sexual maturity, although they often calm down again given time and patience. Unlike fancy rats, males of the species do not get along and shouldn't be housed together. If you have more than one male, wash your hands between handling them or the rats may react to the smell of the other rat on your hands with aggression.
Some owners are unprepared for the destructive abilities of Gambian pouched rats. Like other rodents they need to chew, and with their large size and teeth they can do a lot of damage quickly if they are not supervised closely when outside of the cage for playtime.