The common hamster of Alsace, a species under perfusion

By Nathaniel Herzberg

Posted today at 6:30 p.m.

A curious beat was invited, this Friday, May 13, in the town of Geispolsheim, a few kilometers from Strasbourg. Under a finally gray sky, their legs in the wheat wet from the first rains of the month, the beaters are advancing. Spaced a few meters apart, they hit plastic containers with sticks. Choreography all the stranger as their noise remains largely covered by that of the cars of the Strasbourg-Mulhouse motorway, which borders the plot. But human ears are in no way the objective of the operation. “This is the prerequisite for releasing the hamsterswarned Marie Frolinger, conservation manager of the Naturoparc of Hunawihr (Haut-Rhin), who is coordinating the troops on the ground this morning. We make sure that there are no foxes or other predators in the plot. Then we will proceed to the releases. Be careful not to crush the wheat too much, especially around the preburrows, otherwise the rodents become too easy targets for the raptors. And beware of bites, they are wild animals. Then we’ll put the electricity in the fences. »

In the CNRS laboratory, in Strasbourg, on May 13, 2022, Caroline Habold, research director prepares a hamster before transport to the fields.
Veterinarian Fabrice Capber weighs each hamster in the CNRS laboratory before it is released into the field.  In Strasbourg, May 13, 2022.

Everyone around her is listening, even if almost everyone knows the music. Not the rural warden, who took up his post the previous year, nor the road employees, who prepared the preterriers. But most of the others are on their third, fifth or even tenth operation. For the first of the four releases of the season, which will release a total of 500 rodents, everyone came: the various State services, the chamber of agriculture, the owners of the plots, the scientists involved in the program, the employees of the various farms and even a German television, anxious to compare the French methods of repopulation of the threatened species with the methods applied across the Rhine.

The search completed, the essential operation begins. In groups of three or four, the troop walks the length of the plot. Orange stakes indicate the location of the preburrows, dug to accommodate the animals, a vertical hole, another oblique, as the species is wont to do. “Something to offer them a first shelter and get them used to the outside, then they will go and make their hole elsewhere”says Fabrice Capber, the veterinarian who supervises the farms.

From the “skewer” where they are suspended, a first cage is unhooked, turned over, then the bottom is opened. With more or less goodwill, the rodents fall into the 80 centimeter hole, where some kibble, a piece of apple and carrot await them. To the most recalcitrant, we give a boost, or rather we blow on the muzzle. “I was bitten once, I ended up in the emergency room, I will not be fooled again”, assures Fabrice Capber. Two clods then come to block the burrow, which the most daring will blow up after a few minutes, others after several hours of patience, or even more.

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