I had one as a kid named Garibaldi. Millions of people embraced them as pets. However, a study is attributing one of the greatest plagues in history to the cute little rodents: the bubonic plague. While long blamed on rats hiding away on ships, the scientists at the University of Oslo in Norway now believe that the 14th Century plague began with gerbils via the Silk Road.
The scientists found it was not ships but caravans to Europe from Asia via trade routes that brought the plague. If true, it would re-write our view of history. After studying tree rings, the team found that outbreaks in Europe occurred approximately 15 years after a period of wet weather and warmer temperatures in Asia that led to a major increase in the gerbil and flea populations. They are going to examine the DNA from plague bacterium to try to confirm the link.
If proven, little Garibaldi and his ancestors killed up to 200 million people from 1346 and 1353. I always thought he looked like he was smirking at me.