Before they became one of the most beloved household pets, hamsters were actually wild creatures that burrowed underground to hoard food and hide from predators; far from just being the adorable little balls of fur that can’t seem to stop running on their hamster wheels.
Of the over 26 species of hamsters in the world, only five could be considered as suitable house pets: the Syrian, the Roborovski dwarf, Campbell’s dwarf, Winter White Dwarf, and the Chinese dwarf hamsters, while most remained in the wild.
They’re Cute But…
While they are often portrayed as cute and cuddly, hamsters are actually tough animals that are able to throw a few nasty kicks when threatened. In fact, due to their solitary nature, some hamsters would even fight to the death when others of their kind invade their territory.
Despite their territorialism, these beautiful creatures also have the uncanny ability to recognize family even after being apart for years.
Unfortunately, reunions could be hard to come by since hamsters don’t exactly live that long, especially in the wild. On the average, hamsters could live only up to three years; four if they’re lucky.
Origins of the Hamster
Where do hamsters live outside of pet stores? The answer might surprise you because despite their fragile appearance, hamsters are actually hardy creatures able to survive the harsh conditions of their wild desert habitats.
Hamsters as pets have been around for about 100 years now but they have been known to man even much further than that. The first hamster to be discovered and properly domesticated would be the Syrian hamsters or what most people call the “Golden” or the “Teddy Bear” due to their golden coats and resemblance to the stuffed animal.
Unsurprisingly, Syrian hamsters originated in Syria and were once so populous that they were considered as vermin; digging up and eating farmers’ crops. Because of that, dogs were trained to hunt them down and with their fur becoming a lucrative commodity, there was even a time where they were considered extinct.
The first accounts of the Syrian hamster go as far back as 1797 when Alexander Russell happened to come upon the species in his travels but back then, the wild hamsters have yet to have a name. It is only in 1839 that the Syrian hamster would be recognized as a species by the London Zoological Society.
The Search for the Golden Hamster
By the 1920s, the Syrian hamster was believed to have become extinct due to the continuous hunting and the poaching the species had suffered from.
In the 1930s, however, zoologist Israel Aharoni went on an expedition to search for these hamsters. Together with local, Sheikh El-beled, they managed to uncover a Syrian hamster female living 8-feet below a wheat field in Aleppo, Syria, with her 12 babies.
An Unexpected Occurrence
Unfortunately, when Aharoni and El-beled came upon the family, the disturbance caused the mother to turn on one of her babies and kill it. The unfortunate incident forced the duo to dispose of the mother and take the young with them back to Jerusalem.
On the way, two of the young hamsters managed to escape back into the wilds. In Jerusalem, five more were able to escape captivity but the young hamsters that were left were enough for researchers to breed and study the species.
The Rise of the Domesticated Hamster
The true purpose of Aharoni’s fruitful search of Syrian hamsters was to study the species and because they multiplied so fast, it didn’t take long before they were sent to universities and zoos around the world.
When people discovered how easy it is to breed and tame hamsters, these beautiful animals soon made their way into the hearts of man as common household pets.
Soon enough, the Syrian hamster will be joined by the Roborovski dwarf and Campbell’s dwarf hamsters as the three most common pet hamsters.
Nowadays, you can find hamsters in countless of people’s homes but many of them still do live in the wild where every day, they are threatened not only by their natural predators and harsh living conditions but also by the daily activities of man.