€3m programme to save rare hamster
Launch of €3m five-year scheme means an icon of the Alsace region of France has become a protected species
A FIVE-YEAR campaign has been launched in Alsace to protect a regional icon - the Alsace great hamster.
Long considered a pest, the only wild hamster in western Europe officially became a protected species on Monday, with the launch of an EU-backed €3m campaign. The EU is funding 50% of the cost of the scheme.
This programme - called “Alister” - for Alsace Life Hamster - aims to boost the current estimated population of between 500 and 1,000 to about 1,500, seen as a viable number for the continuation of the species.
As part of the scheme, farmers in the region have promised to cultivate crops that the round-eared hamsters like - such as wheat or alfalfa - on part of their land.
The programme has been launched after the European Court of Justice criticised France in 2011, which ruled that it was still not doing enough to protect the species.
The plan is to provide the hamster with better conditions to live and reproduce, said project leaders during press conference.
It aims to boost the image of the rodent, which has long been seen as a pest by farmers, and to join up the 14 zones where it is currently found by creating passageways under roads in the eastern Alsace region.