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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Museum Takes a Look at Moscow's 250 Hamsters

MTOne of the stuffed hamsters that are on display at the Darwin Museum as part of a series of exhibits examining the city's wildlife.
Few know about the 250 or so inhabitants slumbering along the Moscow River, in shrubs and undergrowth and along the Moscow Ring Road, or MKAD. Wild they may be, with an especially vicious bite, but they are hardly scary.

The life of Moscow's Cricetus cricetus -- or ordinary hamster -- is the focus of a new exhibit at the Darwin Museum of natural history, which boasts one of the largest collections of stuffed animals in Eastern Europe.

On display are two stuffed hamsters as part of a series of exhibitions called "From the Pages of the Moscow Red Book," the city's equivalent of Russia's Red Book, which lists rare and endangered species of the animal and plant world.

The series of exhibitions -- hedgehogs and rabbits came before the hamsters, and birds will be next -- is an attempt to draw attention to the world of nature that coexists in the city and its fragility as green areas disappear and pollution and construction grow.

Hamster ghettos are located in the southern Tsaritsyno and Kolomenskoye districts, along Borisovsky Pond and between Biryulyovsky Park and the MKAD, although the rodents might be hard to spot during the winter because they are all hibernating, according to the exhibit.

Hamsters were plentiful in the region surrounding the capital a century ago, but they have since disappeared.

One theory has it that they were killed off, poisoned for their nibbling away at crops and scorned for their rattish features.

"They would live better in the Moscow region," said Konstantin Belyayev, curator of the hamster exhibit.

Most people know of the big city urban myth of an escaped baby crocodile wandering around the sewers and occasionally enjoying a vagrant for lunch.

Although there are no crocodiles or alligators in Moscow's Red Book, the riverbank wanderings of the hamsters could be a smaller version of that myth.

One theory for their origins is that they are a collection of runaways, abandoned pets and evicted hamsters from Moscow homes who survived once they were put out in urban life by finding the few spots of nature left in the city, Belyayev said.

The way the museum describes it may explain why some hamsters failed as pets. Weighing up to 600 grams, the hamster is one of the most aggressive rodents and known to attack people. The warning signs of an attack are fairly easy to spot. Watch out for a hamster standing on its hind legs and chattering its teeth -- it is about to bite hard.

Within the city, the hamsters live in burrows up to 2 meters deep, just deep enough to be safe from the prying noses of curious dogs.

The hamsters survive on Moscow vegetation and smaller rodents. The exhibition does not explain how scientists calculated that there are about 250 hamsters in the city. But it does say the average hamster can fit 45 grams of food into its cheeks, or roughly 75 peas.

While there are only the two stuffed hamsters on display at the museum, more can be found in the book "Collections of the Darwin Museum," which is on sale at the museum. Page 23 has a photograph of a wooden box filled with hamsters belonging to an avid 19th-century collector. Eighteen hamsters are lined up in three rows complete with tags attached to their feet.

The exhibit "City Hamsters" runs until Feb. 23 at the Darwin Museum, 57 Ulitsa Vavilova. Metro Akademicheskaya. Tel. 134-6124.