Flanders’ wild hamster threatened with extinction


The Flemish government has appointed a co-ordinator and provided funding to save wild hamsters, whose numbers have been reduced to 50

Habitat destroyed

Flemish nature minister Joke Schauvliege has approved financing of €800,000 to save the region’s wild hamster, which is in danger of becoming extinct. The funding includes the appointment of a co-ordinator.

Flanders’ last remaining wild hamsters all live in and around the village of Widooie, part of Tongeren in Limburg province. According to estimates, fewer than 50 of the creatures remain, a number too few to guarantee survival.

The hamster (pictured) was once common in the southern part of Flanders from Leuven eastwards to the Dutch border, but numbers have been steadily declining. The rodent’s natural habitat is in the borders of fields, and modern agricultural practices – which make use of every centimetre of arable land – have reduced the margins in which they live.

“Hamsters breed between June and September,” said Inge Nevelsteen of the regional land agency governing the Haspengouw and Voeren areas. “If the grain is harvested early, they lost their protective ground cover and become an easy prey.”

Hamster co-ordinator

Nevelsteen has been named the region’s hamster co-ordinator, charged with the task of protecting existing numbers and, if possible, helping the species recover. One method already being tried is alfalfa, which some grain farmers have agreed to plant once their initial crop has been harvested, to provide cover for hamsters during the breeding season. Farmers receive subsidies of up to €1,800 per hectare for taking part.

Elsewhere, hamsters have been released into the wild in Leefdaal, part of Bertem in Flemish Brabant, in an attempt to seed the population. So far the effect has been minimal, said Nevelsteen. “Re-populating by itself is not effective. You first have to expand the habitat.”

The aim of the current five-year programme is to expand the habitat around Widooie by five hectares, and ultimately to 25 hectares in total.

Photo: Katanski/Wikimedia