AThe European hamster is no longer given a bounty as in earlier times. On the contrary: the animal that was previously fought as a pest is cherished and cared for. After all, its species is threatened because the European hamster only occurs on “islands” in the wild. That is why the animals are bred with stubby tails and cheek pouches, similar to how it is practiced with exotic animals. To this end, the Opel Zoo in Kronberg opened its own breeding station three years ago. Since then, hamsters have been reproduced in an outdoor enclosure. It’s not just about preserving the species. The real goal is that there should be wild hamsters out in nature again. That is why the up to 30 centimeters large animals from the zoo’s breeding are “released”, that is, released in certain places, as the zoo reports.
But the wilderness into which the zoo hamsters are released should not be imagined too wild. The area for the release into the wild was carefully selected and prepared in the Vordertaunus. A strip between fields was laid out as a “field ark”, where a mixture of different plants grows, such as cereals, alfalfa, strawberries and raspberries, pumpkins and sunflowers. The European hamster finds food in this flora. What is just as important: the planting gives the small animals cover from predators such as birds of prey.
To make it a little easier for the bred animals that have to get along outside of the zoo for the first time, holes have been pre-drilled in the ground. So some of the work is done for them when digging their burrows.
Bad reputation as a pest
From the breeding of the Opel Zoo, 27 European hamsters have been released into the wild in the past few weeks, as the zoo has announced. According to him, 52 animals were born in the zoo this year. Not all of them are released into the wild because some have to stay in the zoo to become parent animals for the next generation of hamsters. According to its own information, the Kronberg zoo works together with other zoos in breeding hamsters, as is the case with the breeding of other rare species. The Opel Zoo has given eight copies to the Frankfurt Zoo and 20 to the Osnabrück Zoo.
The European hamster originally comes from the steppes in Eastern Europe and from there spread over all of Central Europe. It was viewed as a pest because the farmers feared it would damage it if the infestation was massive. That is why premiums were given to the animals that were also fought with gas. Hamsters were hunted not least for their fur. The species was not really decimated by these attempts at extermination, but by the sealing of grassland and modern agriculture with large, monotonous fields on which the European hamster can neither find food nor cover.
However, walkers in the Vordertaunus shouldn’t have too much hope of discovering one of the specimens that have been released into the wild. European hamsters camouflage themselves well with their piebald fur and are active at dusk and at night.