Last updated 11 September 2000: added link to Adrian Rawle's Jird Central site.
WHAT IS A JIRD?
Jirds are relatives of the gerbil family. In appearance they do look like a giant gerbil, and when they stand on their hind legs they look rather reminiscent of the jerboa or "desert rat" of British Army legend.
At the moment we keep one jird, Jeremiah. Looking back on the time we bought him, we should have bought another male as a companion for him. Unusually for animals, two males get along OK but adult females are best kept singly as they tend to be the dominant (and sometimes vicious) ones. Unfortunately the pet shop that sold him to us was a bit hazy on the details, if I remember correctly. For example, they sold us a plastic igloo to keep in his tank. Within about 24 hours the igloo was reduced to a pile of plastic shavings where Jeremiah had sharpened his teeth on it. To be fair, though, there is little information available anywhere on jirds, which is why I have placed several links at the bottom of this page.
Jirds are quite entertaining fellows, not quite as quick as gerbils but certainly bolder when it comes to standing up to their keepers. Jeremiah occasionally gets upset if you try to remove anything from his tank or if you put something in front of him, and on those occasions he will take several quick sharp stabs at your hand with his teeth. On the one occasion that he has really bitten me, his incisors cut deep enough to bleed, but I think that was just a one-off. Due to his propensity for destroying anything in sight, we keep him in a deep (24") glass aquarium with a steel lid, which we know he cannot chew his way out of. For bedding we use a mixture of straw and wood flakes. We did try potting soil, but this was rather messy and can harbour mites and the like. Furthermore, he did not seem overimpressed with it, so we now stick to the aforementioned mixture. He also has a large wad of rodent bedding in one corner to sleep in, into which he tunnels down until he is virtually concealed. Interestingly, it is the females who burrow and sleep in tunnels, buried ceramic piping, etc, while the males prefer (or are forced) to sleep in the open. This can be rather alarming the first time you see one, as the male sleeps on his back with his paws in the air, looking as if he has died during the night.
Diet is easy for jirds, but need not be boring. We top Jeremiah's food bowl up once every 24 hours with dried hamster/mouse/gerbil food, which he usually polishes off before the next helping. This is supplemented maybe once a week with a little dog food (just a few chunks on top of his dried food), and also with the occasional handful of mealworms. Mealworms can be purchased from your local pet shop and kept quite easily in a small plastic tub with a leaf or two of cabbage or similar to keep them going. Jirds love them, but don't overfeed with them as they are quite chitinous - certainly lizards should not be overfed with mealworms due to potential blockage of the gut with the hard shells, so I would hazard a guess that the same applies to small mammals.
Water is an interesting subject with jirds, since they need it, but not in too great a quantity. I may be wrong here, but I noticed over a period of time that when a full water bowl was put into Jeremiah's tank, he would bury it under a mountain of straw and wood flakes. Apart from depriving him of liquid, this also caused a damp soggy mess that quickly led to a mite infestation. These mites would actually spread like wildfire, rising daily up the side of the glass like a cloud (despite efforts to wipe them away) until they were swarming on the lid. In this situation the only solution is to remove and dispose of all the substrate and bedding and clean the tank out with an agent such as Tamodine-E or Ark-Vet. Recently I have tried filling the bowl up to just one third of its level, and so far he seems to have accepted this and not tried to bury it. It may be that as desert dwellers, jirds do not like high humidity from any source, even their own water. Dab lizards (Uromastyx), which come from similar arid areas, normally draw their moisture from their food rather than any standing water, and can even be harmed by having a water bowl in their tank, so there may be a parallel here. I would be interested to hear any other people's experiences in this area.
Finally, due to their extreme gnawing behaviour, jirds should not be left unattended if you take them out of their tank, eg for a run around the room. Otherwise you may come back to find something has been damaged or destroyed, eg furniture, cables, etc.
The following is a set of links to sites run by jird owners probably more experienced than I am with these creatures.
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