It all began in 1930 with one mother and twelve young hamsters that a
zoologist found in the Syrian Desert (situated in the Middle East to the
north of Israel). Deep in a burrow eight feet underground he came upon a
hamster mother and her litter. By the time he got his tiny family back
to his laboratory in Jerusalem. All but three of them had died or
escaped. These three, however, continued in excellent health and within
four months the first litter of Golden Hamsters ever to be born in
captivity was delivered.
As they matured, these babies were interbred, and as
the tame hamsters multiplied they were used in research experiments.
Soon they began to attract widespread attention in the scientific world.
Because hamsters were so disease-free and bred so rapidly (they can have
a new litter every month!) and because they were so friendly and easy to
handle, they came to be highly regarded as laboratory animals and their
fame spread throughout the world accordingly. They're often used for
cardio-vascular research, as their cardio-vascular system is remarkably
similar to that of the human.
From Jerusalem, scientists took them to laboratories
in France, England and, in 1938, to the United States. All present-day
Golden Hamsters in captivity with the exception of a few brought back by
travelers and military men are the descendants of that first tiny family
found in Syria.
In Syria and other Middle Eastern countries where
hamsters are common, the farmers do not only harvest their own fields,
they dig into the hamsters' granaries as well. In each burrow they find
a storage bin which may hold anywhere between 30 and 60 pounds of grain
which the hamsters have stored away for the winter.
Hamsters got their name from an old German word
associated with storing food. (The word "hamper" comes from
the same root.) One of the characteristics of the hamster, like many
rodents, is to stuff their cheeks full of food, which is a hamster-like