Filming the Wild Giant Hamster
November 20th, 2012
Martina Umlauft (also known as "TheFeldhamster" on YouTube) is an avid filmmaker of wild Giant hamsters in Vienna. She has posted many rare videos of these wild hamsters on YouTube. She also authors a hamster cages blog and a wild European hamsters blog.
Hi, Tina, thank you so much for accepting this interview! Your minimalist captures of wild European hamsters are revealing, especially for viewers like me in the US who has never seen one in person. How did you first come to start filming these hamsters?
Thanks for the chance to tell something more. I started photographing and filming wild hamsters after I discovered one in my back yard! I was looking out of the window some summer evening in 2008 and saw a brown animal running on the grass. It ran away so quickly I couldn't really identify it at first.
Only several days later was I able to take pictures of the animal and discovered it had big cheek pouches so it had to be a hamster. Since I would never have expected wild hamsters in the city my first thought was that it was an abandoned pet hamster and that I had to rescue it. But somehow the animal seemed awfully large for a syrian...?
So I googled around and found out it was a wild European Hamster and that there was actually a project by the University of Vienna to count the wild hamsters living in Vienna.
Are these Giant hamsters always available to be seen in the city? Are they normally active in the day time?
Once you know the right spots (certain green areas and parks in the southern districts of Vienna) it's actually quite easy to film them. They also become more used to humans over the course of summer so at the end of September they come really close (up to 1meter/3feet).
Mostly they are active from about 5pm until about 11pm but they can be active during the day if they need a lot of food. Eg. I have been watching females who had young in their burrow go out to forage for food at 10am or even at noon.
In some of your videos, the hamsters are filmed carrying human food such as Fight the Semmer!. Do the locals feed them?
Yes, they do. This video was taken in my back yard from my balcony and the neighbors threw the hamster the bread roll. The building management try to educate people to neither bother nor feed the hamsters but people still thrown them some bread or an apple or seed mix sometimes.
I understand that some people see Giant hamsters as pests. What is your take on this view?
This was the common view until the 70s. Since then, the industrialization of agriculture has driven them almost into extinction - which is why they are strongly protected in the EU nowadays.
I've noticed that you write extensive on hamsters, where does your passion come from?
Maybe because I never had one as a child - I grew up with tortoises. And because I came to hamster keeping from watching them in the wild they are not "everyday pets" to me. Imagine you get to watch some exotic and rare reptile in the jungle and only after getting to know them in the wild consciously remember that they (or a smaller related species) are routinely kept as pets.
It then also becomes pretty obvious that the "traditional" way of keeping hamsters as pets and most commercial cages are absolutely unsuitable to the needs of these ground-dwelling, burrow-digging, crepuscular/nocturnal animals. I guess if one comes from seeing them in the wild it's probably natural to go on a rampage against small wire cages... :-)
What is your take on Giant Hamsters are pets then?
They are an endangered species and strongly protected in the EU. In Austria it would not be legal to have them as pets. I also do not think they would make suitable pets - they can be very fierce, and would need a lot of room - like, say, devoting half your garden to them.
Lastly, is there anything you want to add?
If you get a pet - even if it's just such an "everyday" pet like a hamster or other small rodent take it and its needs seriously and don't let the "tradition" of how to keep them blind you. Try to get information about how they live in the wild and compare that to "what everybody knows" about keeping them. If there are strange discrepancies, question current practice - chances are, it's either because of convenience or because of "tradition" and does not make any real sense.
Very well said. And thanks again for sharing your experience on Giant Hamsters with us!