If someone asks you, “Where do hamsters some from?” you might be tempted to answer, “The pet shop”! However, there’s a lot more to hamsters than a local store…
Hamsters come from Syria. Over the years, wild hamsters from Syria – known as Golden Hamsters – have been captured and domesticated to become the pets we know today. Wild hamsters were once very widespread in Syria, but populations have reduced since farmers began exterminating them and people began killing hamsters for their fur.
As far back as 1797, a man named Alexander Russell first talked about coming across Syrian hamsters. Of course, they hadn’t been named then, but this was the start of the human relationship with these fascinating little bundles of fur.
How did hamsters become domesticated?
So we’ve told you how your pets ancient ancestors were originally found in the wild. But how did these wild hamsters lead to the wonderful furry friends we have all grown to love?
When hamsters were first taken from the wild, they weren’t intended to be pets; they were taken to be studied in laboratories…
The first capture of wild hamsters didn’t go entirely to plan. It happened in 1930 when a zoologist called Israel Aharoni travelled to Syria and found a Syrian or Golden hamster, and her twelve babies. These days, anyone who knows anything about hamsters, knows that you never handle babies while they are still in their mother’s care. But this was a long time ago, and not much was known about hamsters.
As soon as the mother and babies were disturbed the mother turned on one of the babies and killed it. The mother was then killed. Two of the babies managed to escape and return to the wild, and another five escaped when they arrived at the Hebrew Hospital in Jerusalem. So, the original attempt at domesticating hamsters wasn’t entirely successful, but enough of the tiny creatures remained for more hamsters to be successfully bred.
Wild hamsters becoming pets
As the babies that were bred from the original captured hamsters were sent off around the world, so people started to see how easy they were to breed and keep, and the trend for keeping them as pets began.
Hamsters first became popular as house guests in the 1930s and 1940s, and their popularity has only grown since. Today, other breeds have joined the Syrian hamster in being domesticated, such as the popular Russian dwarf hamsters (Our sister site nichepets.com has 5 facts about dwarf hamsters that will make you want one. It’s hard to argue!).
Although hamsters do still live in the wild, there are many more living as pets across the world. It’s taken over a century from the first discovery of hamsters by the human race for them to become an integral part of our lives, but now it would probably be pretty hard for you to imagine living without your hamster companion. And if anyone asks you “Where do hamsters come from?” you can tell them, “It’s a long story…”