Saving Le Hamster

French authorities are ramping up efforts to save Europe's last wild hamster

Due in part to its 6-month hibernation period, the Great Hamster of Alsace was not available for comment.     Photo: Flickr/Tina_6500

In the Alsace region of France, actions are being taken to help save Europe's last wild hamster. The rodent, which can grow up to 10 inches in length, is alternately referred to as the European hamster or, less modestly, the Great Hamster of Alsace. 

Although the black-bellied Cricetus cricetus has been protected since 1993, its numbers have fallen so dramatically that now only a few hundred remain in the wild. Current estimates cite the animal's population to be somewhere between 500 and 1,000.

The Great Hamster of Alsace might have died out already if the European Court of Justice (the EU's highest court) hadn't taken up its case in 2011 by pressuring the French government to do more to protect it.

On Monday, Alsace's regional council announced that it would spend 3 million euros to help bring the hamster population up to around 1,500. The initiative intends to get farmers to strategically plant small crops of alfalfa, which has largely been replaced by maize in French agricultural practice. Alfalfa is the preferred food of the endangered hamster, which, being French, is selective about what it eats.

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