Gambian pouched rats belong to the giant pouched rat genus and are among the largest muroids (a large superfamily of rodents, including mice, rats, voles, hamsters, gerbils) in the world. These rats have very poor eyesight and so depend on their senses of smell and hearing. Their name comes from the large, hamster-like pouches in their cheeks. Gambian pouched rats have brown fur and a dark ring around the eyes. They have long scaly tails and narrow heads with small eyes. Males and females in this species are usually the same size.
Gambian pouched rats are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, ranging geographically from Senegal to Kenya and from Angola to Mozambique. They inhabit forest and woodland, thickets, as well as farmland, cropland, plantations, and rural areas. They are also common in termite mounds.
Gambian pouched rats are social animals that live in colonies of up to twenty. Unlike domestic rats, these rats have cheek pouches like a hamster. These cheek pouches allow them to gather up several kilograms of nuts per night for storage underground. They have been known to stuff their pouches so full of date palm nuts so as to be hardly able to squeeze through the entrance of their burrow. The burrow consists of a long passage with side alleys and several chambers, one for sleeping and the others for storage. Gambian pouched rats are nocturnal coming out of their shelters at night to forage. They are very good climbers and swimmers and adapt rapidly to new situations, such as captivity.
Gambian pouched rats are monogamous which means that males and females have only one partner during a breeding season. They breed usually in the summer. Females have up to four litters every nine months, with up to six offspring in each litter. The gestation period lasts around 30-32 days. Young are born hairless, with eyes and ears closed. Females provide the most parental care nursing their young until they are 28 old. Males don't take part in raising the offspring and sometimes may kill and eat their young. Gambian pouched rats reach reproductive maturity at 5-7 months of age.
There are no major threats to Gambian pouched rats. They are used in medical research and are hunted for food throughout their range. However, this species is so abudant that it is not considered to be a major threat. Gambian pouched rats have been also recorded in the European pet trade and they are considered a pest in some areas.
According to IUCN, the Gambian pouched rat is very abundant throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today remain stable.