Wondering if your pet’s wild siblings are endangered ? Hamsters in the wild lead a difficult life, and not all of them survive. Let’s see whether each hamster species is endangered or not, starting with the largest one, the European hamster.
If you’ve never heard of European hamsters before, don’t worry this is because they are not domesticated, but we will discuss this in more detail in this article. I want to discuss in this article about all hamster species out there since some of them might be considered endangered but they are too common as pets to disappear.
Are European hamsters endangered ?
European hamsters are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Their natural habitat is seriously threatened by expanding agriculture, systematic hunting by farmers (hamsters are considered a crop pest), and also hunted for their fur.
These are fairly large hamsters – as large as an adult guinea pig – so they are easy to spot when out and about. Normally European hamsters hide in their burrows during the daytime, but they make occasional trips for food.
The European hamster’s natural habitat ranges from Central and Eastern Europe to Russia to Central Asia. They live in mostly grassy areas, the occasional meadow, and generally wherever there is fertile soil that will grow the seeds and grains these hamsters rely on. The expansion of farmland, and farmers trying to protect their crops, has led to a sharp decline in hamster numbers in the wild.
Wondering if you could find one in a pet shop ? Unfortunately, this isn’t possible. European hamsters have been known for over a century, and attempts to tame them have been made. There are captive European hamsters, in laboratories for various studies, but none of these hamsters have shown less aggression or a more docile disposition, even a few generations into their captivity.
So in short, these hamsters cannot be tamed, and won’t be present in a pet shop.
Are Syrian hamsters endangered ?
Wild Syrian hamsters are also a threatened species, classified as Endangered by IUCN. Their natural habitat is far smaller than the European hamster’s; it ranges from southern Turkey to northern Syria. Agriculture, farmers and the violence in northern Syria have led to dwindling numbers of Syrian hamsters.
Despite this, captive (i.e. pet) Syrian hamsters are not endangered. These are the most common and popular hamsters you will find in pet shops, and their numbers are no cause for concern.
This is a very interesting turn of fate, and here’s why. The vast, vast majority of Syrian hamsters you see today, either already in homes or in pet shops, are the descendants of a single female and her litter of pups. She and her pups were captured back in 1930 in Aleppo, Syria, in the hops of studying them.
The hamsters adapted well to captivity, bred, and several pairs of these hamsters were then sent all over the world to be on exhibition at zoos, and studied in other labs. In 1937 the hamsters eventually would up with private breeders, and that is when they started to become very popular as pets.
As time went on and selective breeding was applied, the Syrian hamsters became more docile, showed different coat patterns, and became less aggressive. A wild Syrian hamster is not nearly as tame as one you get from a pet shop or breeder.
My very first hamster was a Syrian hamster, his name was Teddy. He had a golden coat, was very active, liked to jump but didn’t really like digging, and was always munching on something. He died of old age at nearly 2 years old.
I then had another Syrian hamster, this one named Eggwhite since he was all-white. He was far tamer than Teddy, and had more patience with being picked up. He still wriggled out of my hands after 2-3 minutes, but that’s far longer than Teddy ever managed. Eggwhite died of old age as well when he was almost two.
Are Dwarf hamsters endangered ?
Dwarf hamsters are classified as Least Concern by IUCN, as their habitat is not endangered. These Dwarf hamsters are actually three species: the Roborovski, the Campbell’s, and the winter white (or Siberian).
All three hamsters are also found in pet shops are extremely easy to confuse for one another. I’ve made an entire article on how to tell them apart.
The habitat of all three hamster species overlaps for the most part, taking up Central Asia, Mongolia, Southeastern Russia. Despite this, these hamsters do not generally cross paths. Their habitat is less populated by humans, since it’s not a very hospitable area so there is very little threat to the hamsters (aside from their natural predators).
My third hamster, after Teddy and Eggwhite, is currently alive and well. Her name is Rocket and she is a Siberian hamster, with light grey fur on her back, white fluffy paws, and a thin dark stripe on her back too. She’s very fast, never sits still, and doesn’t like being picked up at all. She climbs all over her cage and her toys, runs a lot in her wheel, and loves to dig in her substrate.
Are Chinese hamsters endangered ?
The Chinese hamster is not evaluated by the IUCN, so there is no information on whether this hamster is threatened or not. But my personal guess is that since its habitat is mostly in the desert without much fertile land (Mongolia and northern China) it’s in the same situation as the dwarf hamsters – doing very well.
Chinese hamsters are rarely kept as pets outside of Asia, since both males and females are very aggressive when kept in any sort of captivity. Females are a little tamer, but even so, they are not common pets.
If you want to learn more about Chinese hamsters you can read my article about what a Chinese hamster is and breed info+care tips.
Do hamsters reproduce fast ?
Hamsters mature very quickly and are able to sexually reproduce by 4 weeks of age. The usual gestation period is 18-22 days, and the litter can be as large as 10 pups, with some hamsters birthing up to 18.
Females can fall pregnant in the same day as giving birth, so, in theory you could get hamsters to reproduce several times a year and their numbers would quickly multiply. This is not safe for the mother, nor the pups, but it is possible.
Despite this potential for such large numbers, wild hamsters are fairly easy prey for their natural predators, many pups die when still young, and food is scarce. This ensures that their numbers don’t grow too large, but their habitat is also getting smaller.
Where farms are set up, the hamsters will find plenty of food. But they will also be hunted by farmers trying to protect their crops, and their cats patrolling the area.
In short, hamsters do reproduce very fast (can be 6 litters per year) but this does not guarantee their survival in the wild. It’s just the way things are.
Also, the mother is guided by instinct, If they feel they don’t have enough resources or space to raise the babies properly, they might even kill their own babies. I know it’s sad but this behavior is common for many animals, not only for hamsters. Here is an entire article I wrote on this topic.
A hamster mother will even attack the father if they come close to their babies, so a female hamster has quite a difficult and lonely life when it comes to raising their little babies.
Sometimes you might be thinking we shouldn’t keep hamsters as pets, but the truth is for some of them a pet life is better than wildlife, at least for the endangered ones. I know I sometimes looked at Eggwhite, my tamest Syrian hamster, and tried to imagine him foraging for food then an owl swooping in to try and grab him.
If you want to learn more about hamsters’ life in the wild, I have an article about what hamsters eat in the wild and how their diet differs from the ones that we have as pets.
This is something that happens regularly in the wild, but at home ? I was so glad he was safe, had plenty of food, and a nice cage and toys to keep himself entertained. I hope this article helped you understand the actual situation with the hamsters in the wild and your hamster friend is doing well at home.