Calm returns to the zoo’s European hamster breeding and research station. The little “energy saving world champions” are getting ready for hibernation.
The zoo has been breeding endangered animals since this year. “18 animals live in the field hamster station. In total, it offers capacity for more than 50 animals,” explains Christian Kern, the zoo’s director of zoology. “In the future, we want to work with partner organizations to release Berlin hamsters into suitable habitats in Saxony In addition, strips of grain are intentionally left behind after harvest to provide the hamsters with food and cover. Participating farmers receive payment for the resulting crop failure and additional work.
In the animal kingdom, winter power-saving mode is routine for some species. For a true hibernator like a hamster, this would mean a sharp drop in all metabolic processes. The body temperature drops to about three degrees. The breathing rate drops to an average of once per minute, the heart rate drops to an average of five times per minute and brain activity almost completely stops.
“However, field hamsters don’t just go to sleep in the fall and wake up in the spring. Hibernation is broken again and again,” explains Tierpark curator Marien Seibert. Sleep phases vary in length and can last from a few days to two weeks. They need short wake phases. In order to consume the minimum amount of food they need, ”adds the biologist.
In order to survive the cold winter, field hamsters have evolved two methods. Either he is eating fat reserves or he is hoarding supplies such as nuts and grains. The strategy used largely depends on the gender. While male field hamsters store few supplies and accumulate mainly fat reserves, females store up to four kilograms of supplies. The reason lies in reproduction. Females give birth to up to three fetuses a year and raise them on their own. Accordingly, they hardly have time to build up fat reserves.
The European field hamster is one of the most threatened mammals in Germany. It has already disappeared in some states. The greatest threat is intensive farming, particularly the cultivation of energy crops at the expense of grain, early and efficient harvesting, and the use of chemical means to control rodents. According to estimates, only about 50,000 field hamsters still live in Germany.