HAMSTER HISTORY

I’m sure you think that they didn’t know too much about hamsters in 1700s but you are wrong.

Scientists discovered what they presume to be the first description of the Golden Hamster dating from the 1797. It was written by two brothers: Alexander and Patrick Russell and it’s title is: ”Natural History of Aleppo”. The one who contributed the most was Alexander, his younger brother having only small notes. But he is not the man you should thank for bringing the hamster to your house. He considered that the hamster was the same specie as the Common European Hamster and so he didn’t continued the studies on him. Only from now on the real hamster history begins so keep on reading.

The young Curator of the London Zoological Society, George Robert Waterhouse  was the one who introduced the hamster as a new species on the 9th April 1839 and named it Syrian Hamster.
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And guess what? The specimen that he presented was a rather elder female from Aleppo, Syria. The description was published in the in the Society’s proceedings of 1840 : “… This species is less than the Common Hamster (Cricetus Vulgaris) (this named has been change since them to Cricetus Cricetus) and is remarkable for its deep golden yellow colouring. The fur is moderately long and very soft and has a silk-like gloss; the deep yellow colouring extends over the upper parts and sides of the head and body and also over the outer sides of the limbs; on the back the hairs are brownish at the tips hence in this part the fur assumes a deeper hue than on the sides of the body; the sides of the throat and upper pans of the body are white, but faintly tinted with yellow; on the back and sides of the body, all hairs are of a deep grey or lead color at the base. The feet and tail are white. The ears are of moderate size, furnished externally with whitish hairs. The mustaches consist of black and white hairs intermixed…”
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The female that George Robert Waterhouse  described is still at the Natural History Museum in London. It’s true that she isn’t to nice to look at but if you are interested you might make her a short visit. If I will tell you her name maybe you will find her easier: Item BM(NH) 1855.12.24.120(what a bad name for an old pioneer ladysmiley.
Some records show that James Skeene brought some hamsters from Syria to the UK. He was the British Consul to Syria and after he retired he went to Britain some hamsters as a rewardJ. Sadly, he didn’t registered any facts about the little rodents. It seems that they have breed in the UK until 1910, when we lost track of them.
The word gets a break from hamsters until the late 1920s. It seems that Saul Alder, a parasitologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted a study on leishmaniasis disease, for which the Chinese hamster was an excellent animal model(I hope they weren’t to bad treated, I am totally against animal testing ). He had some troubled in breeding them and because he didn’t wanted to depend on the shipments he received from China he searched for a hamster specie that is native to the Middle west.

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He knew about the Syrian Hamster from what Waterhouse’s studies, but someone proposed to him to use the Grey or Migratory Hamster (Cricetulus Migratorius) which was and still is quite widespread in Asia Minor. The funny thing is the fact that(and you will discover that soon) thanks to the fact that the Chinese Hamster wasn’t in the mood for sex we now have hamsters in our homes.

And so the hamster history continues.

Alder asked a colleague from the Zoology Department to help him get some endemic species. The colleague was Israel Aharoni, the first Jew zoologist. At that time Jerusalem was under the rule of the Turks. Aharoni, a Jew in the Moslem world had a trick though. He helped the sultan in increasing his butterflies collection and so he was able to travel freely under the protection of the local Turkish Sultan. He collected just about every animal he came across in his trips and sent them to Berlin.

In one of his trip he found, after hours of hard work and digging, they discovered from the depth of eight feet a complete nest, nicely populated by a female and her eleven young. He kept all them in a wooden box and left them alone for a short period of time. Later, when he looked in the box he was terrified of what happened: the female started to eat her puppies. A man that was with him quickly took her out and killed her(sadly, they didn’t know to much about hamster and the fact that they shall not be put together in the same box- especially Syrian Hamsters). Aharoni and his wife became foster parents for the little ones till one day they escaped. Aharoni found only nine of the ten pups and given them to Hein Ben-Menachem, the founder and head of the Hebrew University Animal Facilities on Mt. Scopus.

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Ben-Menachem put the hamsters in a cage with a wooden floor. And…surprise. Five of them escaped by chewing their way out and sadly died.

Israel Aharoni, the Jew zoologist we talked about earlier was quite skeptical that the remaining hamster would breed. Luckily that Hein Ben-Menachem had other ideas. He filled a large wire mesh cage with tightly packed hay, leaving only 5 cm brightly illuminated space on the top. Into this space he placed his female. Seeking darkness, the female began to burrow into the hay. A day or so later the male was placed into the cage. It proceeded to chase the female and finally caught up with her.

By then both were tired and the male was presumably quite aroused. Their position in the burrow was more favorable to mating than to slaughter, and they mated. The first hamster colony was prolific and numbered 150 within the first year, although again various authorities have different figures: including strangely 365 for the first year.
Anyway, the first laboratory-bred hamsters were given to Alder who published a report on the first research using Syrian Hamsters a short time later. Realising the fragility of a single colony, Alder distributed stock to various other laboratories in order to breed them.

Prepare to laugh: the Syrian Hamsters arrived in England in 1931 and were literally smuggled into the country in Alder’s coat pockets. Why? I don’t have the smallest idea. He given the hamsters to E. Hindle of the Zoological Society of London.

There is general agreement that hamsters were first imported into the USA in the summer of 1938, although the exact nature of the importation is confused as is the importation of stock to mainland Europe.

Next, there are records of another wild Syrian Hamster capturing in Aleppo: in May and June 1971, American Michael R Murphy obtained thirteen animals at Aleppo. Twelve of them (four males and eight females) were taken back to the USA. According to Murphy, after only three days of handling, the wild hamsters were tamed. They mated successfully and had an average of 11 pups.

In 1978 another American, Bill Ducan of SW Medical School Dallas, Texas made a third capture in the same area and returned to the USA with two females. Unfortunately, there aren’t any records about them.

The final part of our hamster history takes us in 1980, when a Rodent Control Officer, while working at the Field Center for the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, captured two hamsters both of which had unfortunately died soon after. In November 1982 the same officer captured, at the same site, another pair of hamsters: sadly the male died within a short period, and although the female reached quarantine in England safely, no one tried to breed her. With the help of the Zoological Society of London, and Clinton Keeling, she arrived at Chris Henwood home in June 1983. In the BHA’s first magazine that appeared in the Spring of 1992, Chris Henwood wrote an article in which he reveals the hamster history and continues with the story of the hamster he had. He says:” She was an extremely tame individual who was up and about at all times of the day.Sadly, although every attempt was made to breed from her, all failed – I assume due to her age; she eventually died in January 1985 at a ripe old age. Since then, as far as I can ascertain, no further attempt has been made to capture individuals from the wild although it is rumored that the Tel Aviv Zoological Gardens has wild caught stock and that the species does occur in Israel proper”.

This was the very long hamster history and it’s ends like this: they lived happily ever after, having many many hamsters.