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Snake food fate reprise for degu family

PUBLISHED: 12:51 15 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:43 03 March 2010

IS it a small rat or a large gerbil? No. That'll be the degu .

Friendly and fun, these cute sociable rodents are desperate for a new home – after being rescued from a possible fate as snake food.

IS it a small rat or a large gerbil? No. That'll be the degu .

Friendly and fun, these cute sociable rodents are desperate for a new home – after being rescued from a possible fate as snake food.

Christine Fisher, of Trimley Rabbit Rescue, saw eight adult creatures being auctioned at Bury St Edmunds market and overheard two women discussing whether to buy them.

"They were in a bit of tatty cage and I heard one woman say to her friend, 'Is it a rat or a gerbil?' I didn't know either at the time," said Christine.

"Then one of them says, 'I think they'll do – I expect the snakes will eat them.'

"I couldn't believe it. So I paid £5 for them. I would have been willing to have gone up to £20 or £30 to save their lives."

But having failed to work out the sex of the adults, Christine has since had a population explosion of degus at the rescue centre in High Road, Trimley St Mary, and now has six baby female and eight baby males as well.

She is now hoping to find homes for them.

Degus are still reasonably rare as pets in this country. They originally come from Chile and while at first glance they might look like a large gerbil, they are believed to be more closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs.

"They are very sociable animals so I will be looking to find homes together for groups of them – probably three or four together," said Christine.

"Degus are relatively cheap to keep but quite expensive to set up as you do need quite a big cage – a chinchilla cage with small mesh, not a tank.

"A cage would probably cost £40, but it may be someone has had chinchilla previously and still has the cage and would like a degu.

"They are fascinating to watch – I've been watching them for hours and getting very little done. They twitter and talk to each other, and can be handled and rarely bite.

"They would not suit tiny children but older children would love them, or anyone looking for a pet which is bit more specialist. I understand they can live ten to 15 years."

n Anyone who would like to find out more about possibly giving a degu a home can contact Trimley Rabbit Rescue on 01394 210671 or go along to the centre's open day on Saturday April 19 between 12 midday and 4pm.

N What do you think? Is it right to buy live animals as feed? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk or visit the forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

factfile:

n The degu or "brush tail rat" grows to about six inches long plus a tail of about six inches, and they weigh about half a pound.

n Their Latin name is Octodon Degus, which is derived from the worn enamel surface of its teeth which forms a pattern in the shape of a figure eight.

n Degus originate from the lowland areas of Chile where they live in large groups, making their homes in rocks or hedges, and are considered an agricultural pest. They are avid nest builders in captivity.

n They often make a noise which sounds like "weep" if they want attention, and will warble to each other if they are happy.

n They eat a mixture of chinchilla and guinea pig pellets, and also foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, dandelion greens, sunflower seeds, dried corn kernels and green beans.

n Never grab a Degu by its tail, because the Degu's defense mechanism will shed their tail from their body. A shed tail will never grow back.

Source: The internet.


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