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Gambian Pouch Rats Population Rises Again In Florida Keys

Posted: 03/26/2012 2:33 pm Updated: 03/26/2012 5:11 pm

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are battling an invasive species in the Keys they thought they got rid of years ago: Gambian rats -- giant rodents the size of cats.

The outbreak started around 2000, when a Keys resident who breed the 9-pound rats released 6 or 7, according to FWC. Ten years ago, they were often imported from their native Africa as pets until they were banned after a Monkey Pox outbreak in 2003.

The half dozen loose multiplied quickly. The FWS says they can have 5 litters in 9 months with an average of 4 young per litter.

Animal Planet says female Gambian rats average 30 newborn rats every year. Watch the Animals Planet video on the rats below.

"We thought we had them whipped as of 2009," Scott Hardin, FWC's exotic-species coordinator, told KeysNet. "In the early part of 2011, a resident e-mailed me and said he saw one of the rats. We were skeptical but went back and talked to people and [saw] there were rats that we missed."

Hardin says they've caught 20 since then through peanut butter and cantaloupe-laced traps in Grassy Key residents' backyards, reports KeyNet.

When officials began a targeted campaign to kill rampant Gambian rats in the Keys in 2007, their bodies and fecal matter were tested for any trace of Monkey Pox.

When none tested positive, Gary Witmer, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center, told Reuters, "We're lucky that's the case. They sure can bite."

Although this particularly dense population of Gambian rats is regulated to Grassy Key, about 60 miles north of Key West, the rodents have made plenty of headlines around the world.

Last year, Gambian rats killed and ate two infants in a horrendous incident in South Africa, where they are breed as food.

Also last year, a public works employee speared a giant Gambian rat with his pitchfork in public housing in the Bronx. The gruesome picture quickly went viral on the web.

A few months later, another was spotted in a Bronx Foot Locker.

Learn more about the Gambian rats in the below video:

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Filed by Amanda McCorquodale  |