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According to user guide ( http://gazebosim.org/user_guide/started__models__database.html) Gazebo uses two environment variables to find model databases.

 GAZEBO_MODEL_DATABASE_URI

 This is a URI that points to an online
 model database. The default value is
 http://gazebosim.org/models

 GAZEBO_MODEL_PATH

 This is a colon-separated list of  local paths that Gazebo should search  for databases. 
  Each path should point to the directory that contains the  database config. 
  These paths take  precedence over the online URI database.

By modification of these variables, this behavior can be avoided.