Friday, January 21, 2011

France receives hamster alert and warning

Don't get me wrong - I'm very much aware and in favor of preserving endangered species on planet earth. It seems that species once common and plentiful are becoming scarce and in danger of extinction. Then we have hamsters. Not just any hamsters mind you, but the Great Hamsters of Alsace. Go figure!

The French government was warned by a EU legal adviser that it must make a greater effort to protect endangered hamsters living near Strasbourg in Eastern France. Perhaps the warning might have come as a surprise or even shock as it did to me, having never realized there was a difference in hamster species. I figured one hamster is the same as another. The cute rat-like creatures live their lives in cages (at least a lot of them do) and spend their free time working the wheel. But I digress.

If France doesn't heed the warning, the country could be fined if the European Court of Justice rules that it has failed to heed a final warning from the European Commission in 2008. The root of the problem is that their numbers are dwindling and a mere 298 burrows were found in 2010, a drop from 1,167 in 2,001. Hamster numbers are calculated on the basis of one hamster per burrow. Perhaps - pure speculation on my part - some hamster family members were out at the time a count was conducted.

According to EU Advocate General, Juliane Kokott, "if agro-environmental measures were put in place, in 2008, to protect the Great Hamster, they are incomplete at this stage." In other words - my interpretation - if France was making an effort to conserve the hamster, it wasn't obvious. Ms Kokott's opinion has been handed over to judges and in most cases the judges accept the advocate general's opinions and the court's rulings are binding on EU member states. In the recent past, France had been called upon to do more to "combat the agricultural practices and the urban sprawl that are destroying the animal's natural habitat". Furthermore, France failed to fulfil its obligations under the EU directive on conservation of natural habitats.

The hamster, which can grow to 10 inches (25 centimetres) long, has a brown and white face, a black belly and white paws. In old times, the paws were much prized by farmers who made them into trinkets. It wasn't that long ago that people used to hang rabbit paws on key chains.

So what if anything, is your "average" French farmer doing in the way of helping the situation, you may well be asking yourselves at this point. Not much it appears.

They (the farmers) farming in the region have planted maize (corn)instead of the hamster's favourite crop - alfalfa. What can one say or write? If the farmers don't cooperate, who will? Then again, should farmers focus on raising crops dedicated to hamster preservation? What about mice? Or bunnies? Or deer?

Given the state of starving humans all over the planet, hamsters perhaps don't receive the level of attention they require. For your 'regular' people, there are plenty of hamsters available in pet shops. There is a photo of the Strasbourg hamster here, in case you happen upon one in your travels:

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