The operator of the new motorway around Strasbourg has kept its promise. In return, he contributed to the reintroduction of 60 specimens of this symbolic species of Alsace.
Highways, sure, but more hamsters: The French group Vinci, which manages a new motorway with a controversial environmental impact in eastern France, has been compelled to take part in a program to bring back the large Alsatian hamster, a symbol of species whose habitats are threatened by human activity, as compensation .
In Ernolsheim-Brüche, about twenty kilometers from the German border, 60 large hamsters are due to be reintroduced this morning. Under the scorching sun, small mammals with white-spotted faces wait in a wooden cage to be released into the wheat field. The hatch opens, and “cricetus cricetus”, the scientific name of the rodent, falls into a pre-dug hole about 80 cm deep, immediately covered with a wad of straw.
“The goal is for them to come out in the evening, when there is less risk of predators,” explains Celia Schappeller, a ranger for a wildlife association that raised hamsters in captivity. Also known as the “European hamster”, the animal is listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There is also an electric fence to avoid ground predators: foxes, badgers or even cats.
On three hectares, the operation is repeated according to a methodical plan to avoid consanguinity in the burrows and to observe the alternation of males and females to encourage fruitful encounters. “Our operation aims to strengthen existing populations,” confirms Arnaud Guillemin, environmental manager for Vinci Autoroutes. The releases take place a few hundred meters in a straight line from the new A355 motorway, Strasbourg’s controversial western bypass.
No corn for ten years
Designed to ease congestion in the city, this 24km dual toll lane opened in December after more than 40 years of disputes and local resistance. This is the first infrastructure project in France born with a legal obligation to compensate for the loss of biodiversity since the 2016 law.
“By building highways in agricultural areas, in particular with wheat fields, which are the habitat of the European hamster, we compensated for this with other areas of wheat,” sums up Arnaud Guillemin. This mechanism, launched in 2017, when work began, has already allowed the reintroduction of 800 individuals.
France’s first motorway concession group has teamed up with “dozens of farmers” who pledge not to grow maize for ten years, a crop that pushes women into cannibalism, but instead grow wheat or alfalfa on the vine, which is good for “Kornferkel”, title big hamster in Alsatian, literally “little cereal pig”.
The hamster is an “umbrella” or “watchdog” species, “the hamster is a good indicator of the viability of the agricultural system,” says Timothy Gerard, whose biology thesis, done jointly with CNRS and the University of Strasbourg, is funded by Vinci. Highways. “Current field cultivation” associated with traditional agriculture means that there is “a fairly significant decline in soil quality with the disappearance of insect communities.”