France Is Punished for Failing to Protect Its Wild Hamsters

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A Great Hamster of Alsace in a picture taken on June 7, 2011 in Hunawihr, eastern France.

If France does not change its laissez-faire attitude surrounding the Great Hamster’s survival, the government must fork over $24.6 million in fines.

Though the Great Hamster of Alsace was commonly viewed as a farmland pest, France was punished last week for failing to protect the dwindling species, the New York Times reports.

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The European Union’s highest court ruled last week that France must adjust its agricultural and urbanization policies in order to preserve the critically endangered rodents. Also known as the European hamster, these burrowing, black-bellied critters are the last wild hamster species in Western Europe.

The Great Hamster of Alsace can grow up to 10 inches long and has brown fur with white patches. An estimated 800 are left in France, yet four years ago, only 200 European hamsters were believed to be alive and nibbling, according to figures from the European Commission. They live in Alsace, a region in northeast France.

Like all hamsters, the Great Hamster of Alsace has large cheek pouches that are used to store and transport food. Which goes back to the problem. Food is scarce for the French furballs. After stirring from hibernation, the hamsters prowl the land for grass and alfalfa, which have been replaced largely by corn. Due to urbanization, they must make long and dangerous journeys to find food. Many of its grazing areas have shrunk to make room for new highways and housing developments.

Jean-Paul Burget, president of Sauvegarde Faune Sauvage (Safeguard Wildlife) in Alsace, is pleased by the high court’s ruling. He told the Times that France must double the population of its hamsters, which would be enough to preserve the species. Burget is the animal rights activist that launched the case, and told the Wall Street Journal that the ruling is “a victory for biodiversity in Europe.”

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