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France faces E.U. lawsuit for failing to protect endangered hamster

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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How do you save an endangered species when there is no political will to save it? How about a lawsuit?

The European Union’s (E.U.) executive body, the European Commission (E.C.), has told France that it could face a lawsuit if it doesn’t finally take action to protect the last few European hamsters (Cricetus cricetus) in the country. Known locally as the Alsace hamster, and also as the black-bellied hamster, the species is relatively common in Eastern Europe, but it has all but disappeared from the western half of the continent, where the last remaining population lives in Alsace, France. The hamster is protected under the E.U.’s Natura 2000 program, which aims to preserve Europe’s natural heritage.

The species has been on the decline in France for years. In 2001, conservationists counted 1,167 hamsters. That number plummeted to just 161 by 2007, according to the E.C., which says that even fewer hamsters remain today.

France and the E.C. have been dancing around the issue of the Alsace hamster for years. In 2007, the E.C. threatened France with a 17 million euro fine (approximately $24 million) for not doing enough to preserve the species. France, in turn, pledged to spend around $970 per hamster to protect them, but it doesn’t appear that any of that money has actually been spent.

Part of the problem is that hamsters have long been considered pests in France, where they have been known to eat crops. Farmers once used controlled flooding and poison to eliminate the hamsters, but such measures are not necessary any more, because commerce has proved to be much more effective. You see, farmers no longer grow hamster-friendly crops like cabbage, onions and beetroot. Instead, they have switched to raising corn, which is more profitable and ripens months after the hamsters awaken from hibernation in March. Without nearby access to sustenance, the hungry rodents embark on long, dangerous quests for food.

According to the E.C., the Alsace hamster needs a population of 1,500 animals and 600,000 acres of protected land in order to thrive. Right now, they exist on fewer than 8,500 acres of land.

France’s official reaction to the threat of a lawsuit? It has “taken note” of the E.C.’s action and “will examine” the Commission’s grievances.
Image: European hamster, via Wikipedia





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  1. 1. Navre 5:06 pm 07/7/2009

    A country giving up its sovereignty to a body like the EU is always a mistake. European nations’ ability to govern themselves and determine their own destiny is as endangered as the hamster is.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Quinn the Eskimo 2:51 am 07/8/2009

    And here I thot they only sued Microsoft!

    Well, now, $24 Million. So, they can *buy* all the hamster and build them a nice retirement home–and feed them, brush them, and well, let ‘em breed?

    What is the $24 Big for? Do these guys each "cash shreds?" Just exactly what can the EU do with $24 Million to make more land?

    On a related question: What will Cap-and-Trade actually *do* to limit Co2?

    It’s all feel-good politics.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Quinn the Eskimo 2:54 am 07/8/2009

    @ Me

    Oooooooops.

    Do these guys each "cash shreds?" should have been

    Do these guys eat "cash shreds?"

    Darn computer enters what I type, not what I meant. Bummer.

    Link to this
  4. 4. josw 3:37 pm 07/8/2009

    These 3 comments are from scientists ??The EU should ask France to pay 2400000 million ! If you don’t have respect for animals continue as a scientist to develop more nuclear weapons, to spend thousands of billions for flights to the moon/mars but are not able to give food to all that US people living on the street,you are not able to sign the Kyoto….Just wipe for yr own door before giving critics .Congratulations for this scientific approach ! Somebody who lives since 19 yrs in France

    Link to this

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