Most of today’s pet gerbil populations are descended from a number of wild individuals who were caught in the vast, open deserts and semi-deserts of Mongolia. Since their capture, these animals have been bred in captivity, growing in number and popularity until they reached the status in pet shops that we see today.
Gerbils that are kept as pets belong to one of just two gerbil species within the frankly enormous gerbil family. This group of species has over a hundred different members, most originating from arid climates across the world. Of this group, only a few members are kept as pets - the Mongolian gerbil, and the fat-tailed gerbil.
Most species of gerbil still live in the wild, just as their ancestors did
Fat-tailed gerbils originate from a different area of the globe - the northern reaches of the Sahara desert, and so they can be found in countries like Algeria. These animals are skilled desert survivors, and over time they have evolved the ability to store fat in their tails - hence the name. When healthy, these animals have long, hairless tails that should be quite heavy and thick. They were discovered in the late nineteenth century by the biologist Fernand Lataste, and although they’ve risen in popularity in recent years, these gerbils are significantly harder to find than their Mongolian relatives.
You can find out more about the history of these little animals on our Gerbil History page.