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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 14:05 GMT
Rare pet abandoned on doorstep
A degu eating a carrot in a cage
Degus like to eat carrots and take sand baths
An unusual South American pet abandoned on a doorstep in Leicestershire has been rescued and given a temporary home by an animal charity.

The degu, a rodent similar to a squirrel but without a bushy tail, was left in a cage at a home in Melton Mowbray.

Jo Marlow of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) in Leicester said the owners left the animal after knocking on the door of the house.

"The family that found the degu called us - they didn't know what it was. They thought it was a black rat," she said.

Sand baths

"This is first seasonal abandonment of the year in Leicestershire and probably one of the first in the UK," Ms Marlow said.

"People tend to discard animals in the run-up to Christmas because they want to get rid of an unwanted pet and replace it with a new one or simply don't want the bother over the holidays.

A degu
The degu needs a large cage to climb and explore

The degu, which is rarely seen in the UK, comes from Chile and lives in fairly dry conditions.

"The degu likes to take a sand bath, rolling around in a container of sand to get itself clean," Ms Marlow said.

"It also needs a large cage to run around in, which it didn't have when it was found," she added.

The RSPCA officer who went to collect the degu had never seen one before in her five years of rescue work.

"We are appealing for information about where it came from. Someone must have noticed a person with an unusual pet like a degu who doesn't have it anymore," she said.

"We don't recommend that people buy one as they are a complex animal. The person who had it obviously didn't understand it as it didn't have a big enough cage and didn't have a sand bath.

The RSPCA said people should get a pet from an animal shelter or rescue centre so they are informed on how to care for it.

Click here to go to Leicester
See also:

28 Aug 01 | Wales
Fighting the animal cruelty war
05 Dec 01 | England
Law change call to halt cruelty
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