Any owners of hamsters have probably thought from time to time where did the ancestors their furry domesticated pet come from?
Wild hamsters can be found in many various parts of the world, from the small population of black bellied hamsters living in france, to the various russian varieties which come from not just russia but also china and mongolia. Greece, romania, and syria also serve as countries of origin for some breeds. Pretty much any old world area that has some kind of desert environment serves as a home for wild hamsters, who like to burrow in the sand and dirt.
The most popular breed of domesticated hamster, the syrian hamster, also known as the golden hamster originates from you guessed it syria. Though it also comes from the southern parts of turkey as well.
How do wild hamsters live?
Surprisingly their is a severe lack of field research on wild hamsters even today. They are quite elusive often living in very wild areas and mainly come out at night. Unlike their domesticated cousins they are very scared of people and will hide deep underground when humans come around.
They are omnivorous creatures surviving on a variety of foods ranging from vegetables, grasses, insects and even other small mammals. Much like pet hamsters they love to dig and burrow. Their burrowing is on a scale that compared to that of a pet hamster would be like a kiddie pool contrasted to a full size Olympic pool. Their tunnels complexes can be extremely large and will go very deep.
History of the golden hamster/syrian hamster
The origin of the domesticated syrian hamster is a long difficult tale with many twists and turns, sort of like the hamster themselves. Syrian hamsters seem to have first been documented by the scottish Russel brothers patrick and alexander in their book a natural history of allepo. Though they described the hamsters they had incorrectly identified them as belonging to the same species as the european hamster, which is most definately not true.
It would take another 80 years or so until the zoologist George Robert Waterhouse would finally realize that this was a seperate species of hamster from the european variety. Waterhouse had some how gotten a hold of a female of the species to investigate. No one is quite sure where he had gotten her but her furr still exists to be seen to this day some 200 years later at the british musuem of natural history.
Capture and first attempts at breeding Syrian Hamsters
It would be another 100 years until the first success capture and breeding of the species would be successful. The scientist Saul Adler was looking for better breed of animal to do lab experiments on for the advancement of medical science. He reached out to the zoologist israel aharoni for a solution. Aharoni went out into the fields around alepo and with the aid of Sheik El-Beled and a few workers dug out a full colony of hamsters consisting of a mother and her 11 young.
The mothers protective instincts went into overdrive however and she killed some of her children, as wild hamster mothers sometimes do when they scared and startled. Aharoni quickly seperated the mother from her children. Later on the ten remaining baby hamsters escaped but all but one were able to be retrieved. Aharoni then sent the remaining nine to Heim Ben-Menachen who was the founder of the Hebrew univserties department of animal studies.
Once again the hamsters rascally nature struck again and five of the remaining nine escaped never to be retrieved. This left them with only one male and three females, but this number was quickly reduced again when the male killed one of the females. Heim Ben-Menachen faced with only three hamsters left, improvised a new breeding technique.
He filled are large cage with a large amount of hay, then released the female into it. Giving her a few days to get the lay of the land she quickly began to burrow a nice nest in the hay. Then later he released the male into the cage, after a merry chase they then mated. Leading to a large family of successful offspring.
Withing a year this mother led to a thriving colony of over 150 hamsters which were given to Saul adler who then sent them to other breeders. Thanks to the Syrian hamster Saul Adler was able to develope a treatment for Leishmaniasis, a terrible skin disease that has infected millions of people. Recent dna science has suggested that all domesticated syrian hamsters today may be descending from that one mother that Aharoni captured as a baby.
Nearly 300 years after first being documented by western scientists the Syrian or Golden Hamster has spread throughout the world serving as wonderful pets for countless families, so next time you play with your furry buddy just remember the long and rich history that brought him or her to you.