France has been punished for not doing enough to protect its hamsters — specifically, the Great Hamster of Alsace.
The Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that unless France adjusts its agricultural and urbanization policies sufficiently to protect the hamsters, the government will be subject to fines of as much as $24.6 million, The New York Times reports.
The Great Hamster is Western Europe’s last remaining species of wild hamster, and there were fewer than 200 just four years ago. The animal — which burrows in Alsace along the Rhine and can grow up to 10 inches long — has been protected since 1993.
The European Commission launched its lawsuit against France — now thought to be home to 800 of the hibernating creatures — in 2009.
The hamster’s usual diet of grass and alfalfa has largely been replaced by corn, which is unripe when the hamster awakens from hibernation each spring, according to the Times. Urbanization is also encroaching on the animal’s grazing area.
“Protection measures for the Great Hamster put in place by France were insufficient” in 2008 “to ensure the strict protection of the species” in accordance with European law, the court ruled, the Times reports.