There’s a little black-bellied hamster in France that’s counting on one man in its fight for survival. Known as the Great Hamster of Alsace, this little guy’s numbers have dropped from about 4,000 in 1979 to less than 500 in 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal. The reason for its decline: Greed — it’s simply more profitable to grow corn that, once harvested at the conclusion of its short growing season, quickly exposes the hamster to predators, than it is to grow other tall crops like alfalfa and wheat that provide cover for longer periods of time.
I’ve got a soft spot for hamsters. I remember years ago when I took a job outside New Orleans that entailed moving cross country. I was forced to leave my family for a few months so that the house could be sold. I remember the long drive and how sad I was to be leaving everyone, even if just for a short time. What sticks in my mind, however, is that as soon as I arrived at my new home, I received a phone call from my young daughter. She was beside herself with grief as she cried to me that her hamster had suddenly died. I was powerless to help and tried to console her from a distance as best I could. Despite what some people think, these are the moments that stick in a father’s mind.
Jean-Paul Burget loves hamsters, too. He must, because he’s spent years fighting for their survival. Despite the fact that the Great Hamster of Alsace, whose scientific name is Cricetus cricetus, can be found under different names throughout Europe and all the way into Russia, Mr. Burget considers Alsace, on the eastern edge of France, this hamster’s true home.
In his fight to persuade French farmers to grow more protective crops and less corn, Mr. Burget is waging battle within the European Court of Justice using a 1992 endangered species law as his weapon of choice. The Great Hamster of Alsace, argues Mr. Burget, should be protected under that law. The court is scheduled to issue its final ruling on the matter in April and, if found guilty of allowing the hamster population to decline to dangerously low levels, the government of France could face fines of up to €68,000 for each hamster found living in the fields of the city of Strasbourg, according to The Independent.
At issue here is not only the fate of our little French friend, but how much autonomy should be given to governments when decisions are made that impact environmental and wildlife goals. Indeed, while the fortunes of the Great Hamster of Alsace depend much upon the ruling of the Court, the fates of untold species of animals may well hang precariously in the balance between the quest for profit and the imposition of humanity.
By katanski (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons