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Pocket-size rodent attracts big fan base and $41,000 in donations to National Zoo

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Pocket-size rodent attracts big fan base and $41,000 in donations to National Zoo. (ABC7)

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or in this case, maybe beauty is only skin deep. In just a few weeks, the National Zoo has collected tens of thousands of dollars to build its naked mole-rats a new home.

In case you missed it, these blind, mostly hairless rodents from east Africa have a big fan-base at the zoo. It’s enough to make even the pandas jealous.

These creepy-looking little critters live their entire lives underground in places like Somalia and Ethiopia.

“Because it's hot and humid underground in Africa, they have not a lot of hair on their body,” said Kenton Kerns, assistant curator of the Small Mammal House at the National Zoo.

The pocket-size rodents are known for digging tunnels that can stretch miles long.

“The combination of those strong teeth and strong jaws mean they can chew through concrete if we give them enough time,” Kerns said.

In less than a month, the zoo has already raised more than $41,000 in donations to build a new $100,000 exhibit for the mole-rats. It is set to open next year.

“It's going to be more natural where they're going to be moving around a bit more,” Kerns said.

The new space will also feature a webcam. The surprisingly popular rodents previously had a webcam, but it was turned off in 2015 due to outdated equipment, a zoo spokesperson said.

The zoo currently has webcams operating for the elephants, the lions and of course the beloved pandas. But apparently naked mole-rats fans wanted 24/7 access to view their favorite rodents.

Zoo visitor Wendy Panton said, “It's like a baby hamster with no fur.”

Naked mole-rats are the longest-living rodents on the planet.

“They're one of the few mammals that are incredibly good at fighting cancer. So we're doing a lot of research to determine why that is,” Kerns said.

The zoo’s naked mole-rats are about 30-years old. That is ancient compared to most mouse species that only live a few months or years at most.