They did not get them all. That is the conclusion being reached by wildlife specialists after confirming the Gambian pouch rat has reappeared on Grassy Key in Florida. The Sideshow reports an eradication effort that ended in 2009 was thought to have eliminated the imported African pest. Recent sightings prove that not all the rats were killed or caught. They are breeding.
The Gambian pouch rat was imported into the U.S. to be sold as an exotic pet. They grow to a length of 3 feet and can weigh 9 pounds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture believes the rat was released in the Florida Keys by a breeder around 1999. It is considered an invasive species and a number of agencies are working in concert to eradicate the existing population before any can migrate to the mainland of Florida. Should they escape the Keys, the rats would prove a threat to agriculture.
The Gambian pouch rat has been banned from importation since 2003. An outbreak of the illness monkeypox was traced to imported pouch rats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration banned the importation and sale of these animals due to the risk of illness being transmitted from rats to people or other animals.
The 2003 monkeypox outbreak took place in the Midwest. Over 70 human cases of the disease were reported to the CDC and 35 confirmed by blood test. Sixteen patients were hospitalized. Nearly three dozen people were given the smallpox vaccine as a preventative. The illness was traced to a shipment of prairie dogs that had come into contact with infected Gambian pouch rats imported by a Texas animal distributor.
All of the cases confirmed by the CDC had contact with the exposed prairie dogs or areas where they had been kept. Monkeypox can be transmitted from person to person but that was not seen in this outbreak. Extensive efforts were made to trace all of the exposed rodents and those that were found were euthanized.