'Great Hamster of Alsace' blocks march of business

It is only 10in long and spends half the time hibernating, but it could still block the march of business in one corner of France. No wonder it is named the "Great Hamster of Alsace".

Environmentalists have gone to court to try to block the transformation of 120 hectares of farmland into a business park, warning that the project threatens the last colony of wild hamsters in western Europe.

The "Great Hamster of Alsace" ( Cricetus cricetus), also known as the black-bellied hamster, is one of the most threatened mammals in Europe, the European Commission has reported. It has been a protected species since 1993.

The environmental group Alsace Nature and its allies claim the area in the Bas-Rhin region is a key "reconquest zone" for the giant hamster. Director Stéphane Giraud warned that if the hamster, with its distinctive white and brown face, black belly and white paws, disappears from the region, "it will disappear from the whole country".

The nocturnal rodent spends 80 per cent of its life underground and hibernates for six months every year. Until the 1960s, it was considered a pest. Farmers set up traps and left poison, and even rewarded children with sweets or money for bringing them hamster tails and paws. Now only about 400 survive in Alsace. Environmentalists could not find a single hamster living in the threatened area.

Although urbanisation is partly to blame, the hamsters have also suffered from the spread of lucrative maize crops in Alsace.

Though called a "corn piglet" in local dialect, the wild hamster prefers clover, alfalfa, wheat and even cabbages, which have now been replaced by maize. The European Court of Justice accuses the government of failing to protect the hamster's habitat, and in 2007 the European Commission threatened France with a €17m fine.

Last year, farmers became so angry about government projects to encourage alfalfa crops that the French Ecology Minister was twice forced to cancel a visit to Alsace.

"We have the possibility of creating between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs and we're being blocked because the area might be favourable to hamsters," said Etienne Wolf, the Mayor of Brumath, the small town in Alsace where the business park is planned.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk