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There are fewer than 800 of these endangered wild hamsters living in France today. (M. Watson / Ardea / Animals Animals)

Saving France's Hamsters

Europe wants France to take better care of the
Great Hamster of Alsace, one of the continent’s
last wild hamsters

By Zach Jones | null null , null
<p>PHOTO: The Great Hamster of Alsace can be identified by its black belly. (Frederick Florin / AFP / Getty Images / NewsCom)</p><p>MAP: The hamsters live along the Rhine River in the eastern Alsace region of France. (Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: The Great Hamster of Alsace can be identified by its black belly. (Frederick Florin / AFP / Getty Images / NewsCom)

MAP: The hamsters live along the Rhine River in the eastern Alsace region of France. (Jim McMahon)

The Great Hamster of Alsace is in danger, and the European Union's Court of Justice has forced France to help.

To some, the wild hamster is an irritating pest, like a rat or a pigeon. But it’s also an endangered species. Fewer than 800 of the rare rodents are left in the country.

These French fur balls live along the Rhine River in the eastern Alsace region of France. The species can be found in larger numbers in Asia and Eastern Europe, but Alsace is the only place in Western Europe that the Great Hamster still calls home.

“Protection measures for the Great Hamster put in place by France were insufficient…to ensure the strict protection of the species,” the court ruled. If France fails to guarantee the hamster’s survival, the country will be fined $24.6 million by the European Union.

A full-grown Great Hamster can be as long as 10 inches. They typically have black bellies, long white paws, and brown-and-white faces.

Farmers know them best as pests. They used to destroy the hamsters’ breeding grounds, almost killing off the species, because the rodents munched on crops. Growing cities and highways in France have also put this native rodent in danger.

The Sauvegarde Faune Sauvage (“Safeguard Wildlife” in French) brought a lawsuit against the country four years ago. Now, France must help increase the hamster population up to 1,500 in the wild. Experts think that should be enough to save the species from extinction.

The French government has agreed to reconsider new highways and housing developments that would further damage the hamster’s habitat (a specific area in which an animal or a plant can live). Farmers in the Alsace region will also be encouraged to plant more crops that the hamster can eat, such as alfalfa sprouts and nutritious grasses.

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