TIME animals

France Is Spending 3 Million Euros to Save These Hamsters

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These guys are adorable AND symbolic

The French pride themselves on their superior cultural life, the je ne sais quoi that’s kept them synonymous with glamour, effortlessness and savoir-faire. That ineffable French-ness extends to all citizens, including, of course, Europe’s last wild hamster—alternately known as the European hamster or the Great Hamster of Alsace.

Alsace’s regional authorities have launched a program to save the little rodents from extinction, pledging 3 million euros to encourage farmers to grow alfalfa (which the hamsters apparently have a very strong preference for), and thereby encourage reproduction.

This isn’t the first time the government’s had to step in to save the species: In 2011, the European Court of Justice ruled that France hadn’t done enough to protect the Great Hamster, threatening to impose fines of up to $24.6 million if France didn’t adjust its agriculture and urbanization policies.

Naturally, the hamster’s cause is symbolic of a larger struggle. As The Guardian wrote in 2011, “the humble hamster has come to symbolise the battle against urban sprawl and monocropped maize, which now occupies more than 80% of the Alsace plain.” All this for a 10-inch ball of fur that hibernates 6 months out of the year and spends the majority of its life alone. But they’re so cute!

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