Hamster extinction could cost France millions

The rapid disappearance of an endangered hamster -- yes, a hamster -- could cost France millions of dollars in fines from the European Commission.

Just 161 black-bellied hamsters (Cricetus cricetus) remained in France last year, down from 1,167 in 2001. Once considered a pest, the hamster was poisoned into near extinction in the 1990s. Today, conservation efforts are trying to preserve the species, but France hasn't had much luck. The failure, the EC has warned, could bring France fines of about $26 million (€17 million).

While poisoning the rodents is no longer an issue, habitat loss and modern farming methods continue to devastate the remaining population. Corn, a popular crop in France (and as we know, just about everywhere else), has replaced other crops the hamsters once ate, and the critters are starving as a result.

Black-bellied hamsters aren't the world's most endangered species, but they are considered threatened in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria, where they are protected under the European Community Habitats Directive. Meanwhile, oddly enough, they also remain popular as pets and as medical lab animals.

This situation does bring a lot of questions to my mind: Will the threat of a massive fine inspire France to save the hamster from extinction? Will this type of punishment give nations a reason to protect their biodiversity? Does the EC only care because they think the hamster is "cute"? It's too soon to know the answers to these questions, but I think we'll be revisiting them in the not-too-distant future.

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