why are gerbils illegal in california

Why Gerbils Are Forbidden in California

You might have heard that California is one of the strictest states in the U.S., with regulations covering various aspects, including pet ownership. You might be surprised to learn that keeping gerbils, those adorable little creatures, is prohibited in California. What are gerbils, and why is California banning them? This article aims to answer these questions.

What are Gerbils?

Gerbils are small mammals belonging to the rodent family, with a body length of about 10-20 centimeters, a tail measuring 5-10 centimeters, and a weight ranging from 60-130 grams. They come in various colors, including gray, brown, white, and black, some with spots or stripes. With large, round eyes, small round ears, a sensitive nose, two pairs of sharp incisors, short and sturdy limbs, and a furry tail with a black tuft at the end, gerbils exhibit unique physical features.

Highly intelligent, curious, lively, and friendly, gerbils enjoy interacting with both their kind and humans. They thrive on play and exploration. Their lifespan typically ranges from 3-5 years, with some living up to 8 years. Gerbils make excellent pets, requiring minimal space, food, producing little noise or odor, and posing minimal disease transmission risks. All they need is a clean, comfortable, and secure cage, some bedding like wood shavings or sand, hay or fresh grass as food, fruits or vegetables as snacks, toys or tunnels for entertainment, and companionship from their kind or humans for a happy life.

Gerbils’ Natural Habitat

Originally from deserts and arid regions, gerbils thrive in dry and extremely warm environments. Evolving from desert rodents in Africa and Asia over millions of years, they adapted to harsh conditions. Their bodies possess unique adaptations:

Skin that prevents water loss
Fur to maintain body temperature
Furred foot pads to prevent burns
Efficient kidney function to conserve water
Concentrated urine and dry, odorless feces
Nasal adaptations to reduce respiratory water loss
Ears to dissipate excess heat
Eyes to protect against sand dust
Gerbils prefer sandy soils and are suitable for grasslands and shrubbery. They construct complex underground burrow systems for shelter, consisting of multiple entrances and rooms for various purposes like food storage, sleeping, breeding, and escaping predators. These burrows maintain a stable temperature and humidity, protecting them from floods and predators.

Gerbils can survive in environments with limited food and water sources, primarily consuming plant-based foods such as seeds, roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits. Occasionally, they consume animal-based foods like insects, snails, and spiders. With minimal water needs, gerbils rarely drink water. Their low metabolism, energy consumption, and small appetites contribute to their ability to thrive in resource-scarce environments.

California’s Alignment with Gerbil Traits

California’s predominantly dry and hot climate, resembling a desert environment, with poor soil quality, provides an ideal habitat for gerbils. If released into the wild, gerbils could reproduce prolifically, becoming an invasive species. This is due to:

Lack of natural predators like foxes, owls, and snakes, ensuring their safe survival
Availability of gerbil food in California, such as crops, orchards, and gardens, ensuring sufficient nutrition
Presence of gerbil habitats like deserts, grasslands, and shrubbery, enabling them to freely construct burrows
Gerbils’ prolific reproduction, with up to six litters per year, each yielding 2-10 offspring, contributes to their rapid population growth.

Hazards of Gerbil Invasion

Invasive species can damage local vegetation, as gerbils consume native plants extensively, leading to a decrease or extinction of plant species and affecting plant diversity and balance. Gerbils also damage local plants by digging up roots, gnawing on bark, and digging burrows, disrupting plant growth and stability.

Invasive species can spread diseases and harm agriculture. Gerbils may carry pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites, transmitting them to other animals or humans through bites, feces, urine, etc., causing diseases such as plague, salmonella, toxoplasmosis, etc. Gerbils also pose a threat to agriculture by eating crops, fruits, seeds, reducing farmers’ income.

Invasive species can be challenging to eradicate. Once gerbils establish stable colonies, they become challenging to eliminate. Their burrows protect them from capture, their reproductive capabilities compensate for losses, and their adaptability enables survival in various environments. Even with methods like baiting, traps, or hunting dogs, complete eradication is difficult, with potential harm to other animals or humans.

California Government’s Strict Regulations

To prevent gerbil invasion, the California government has enacted laws prohibiting the illegal keeping of gerbils. Relevant legal provisions include:

Section 2118 of the California Fish and Wildlife Regulations, prohibiting the importation, transportation, possession, keeping, or release of gerbils or other non-native rodents without the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s permission.
Section 671 of the California Food and Agriculture Regulations, prohibiting the importation, transportation, possession, keeping, or release of gerbils or other animals that may cause harm to agriculture or the environment without the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s permission.
Section 121720 of the California Health and Safety Regulations, prohibiting the importation, transportation, possession, keeping, or release of gerbils or other animals that may carry or spread diseases without the California Department of Public Health’s permission.
Violating these provisions can result in hefty fines or criminal penalties. Fines vary based on the severity of the offense, typically ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Criminal penalties, whether misdemeanor or felony, carry maximum sentences of 6 months to 3 years.

Apart from legal consequences, the government has the authority to seize illegally kept gerbils. Officials can inspect anyone’s property or vehicle at any time, without notice or a search warrant, for illegal gerbil possession. If gerbils are found, the government can seize them immediately, transporting them to designated locations for quarantine, euthanasia, or other forms of handling. No compensation is provided to the owner.


California’s ban on keeping gerbils aims to protect the local ecological environment and agriculture, preventing gerbils from becoming invasive species. Pet owners should recognize the severity of the issue and refrain from violating relevant laws. While gerbils are cute, they are not suitable as pets in California. If you genuinely love gerbils, consider keeping them in states or countries where it’s allowed, watching gerbil videos online, visiting zoos or wildlife sanctuaries, or supporting gerbil conservation efforts through donations or volunteering.

Leave a Reply