02 February 2012

Who are the hamsters in the banner on top?

Those three hamsters were not chosen at random or by accident. In fact, they are -or have been- my little friends.

From right to left: Richard, Edzard-Aline and Christopher.

Richard, my first golden (Syrian) hamster
When I bought Richard at PJ's PETS at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, I was told it was a boy. I didn't really think much of it, since I had chosen it because I liked the colour.

As a sort of an homage to Richard Leakey, a well-known paleoanthropologist and conservationist and to Richard Dawkins, the man who single-handedly changed the world's view on how evolution by natural selection works at the gene level, rather than at the level of the organism, I named the hamster Richard.

After a few days, I started noticing that Richard lacked some features that are required to rightly declare it a boy. On the other hand, it did have some other features boys aren't supposed to have. In other words, it was a girl.

I never changed Richard's name into something different, as I figured that we are beyond this type of sexism now.

I acquired Richard on 8 October 2008. She died on 21 September 2010.

Edzard-Aline, my second golden hamster
Although I had really liked Richard, I was very much in doubt I wanted another hamster and I was seriously considering a few rats instead, because rats are bigger and more sociable. I remember their constant chattering during the night during my years as a student, when I did have several rats. In the end, I decided for a new hamster anyway.

Instead of going to PJ'S PETS at Yonge and Eglinton, a small store, I decided to acquire the new hamster at PJ'S PETS at Yonge and Brookdale in Toronto. Wanting a hamster that didn't look like Richard, I pointed to the only other choice the store had at the time, and that was it.

This time, it was rather obvious that the new hamster was a boy. In continuation of my non-sexist name-giving, I called him Edzard-Aline, as an homage to Edzard Ernst, the world's first and most respected professor of alternology (alternative medicine) and to Aline Colle-Vandevelde (also known as Aline Vandevelde), almost certainly the bravest anatomist my native Belgium has ever known, and a woman for whom I have tremendous admiration, for it is thanks to her that I learned what "evidence-based" and the "scientific method" really mean.

Even though he did seem to sleep incredibly restful sleeps in the beginning, that was an illusion. He was a very anxious little critter and I even caught him a few times having nightmares.

I acquired Edzard-Aline on 22 September 2010 and he died suddenly and completely unexpectedly and far too soon during the night between 18 and 19 December 2011.

Christopher, my third golden hamster
When Edzard-Aline died, I remembered my hesitation to buy a new hamster and go the rat-route instead. In order to stop such feelings in the bud, I went back to PJ'S PETS the very same morning to acquire a new hamster, this time at Yonge and Eglinton again. To my delight, they had a hamster in the original wild-style agouti colouring. Without hesitation, I bought her and brought her home.

In homage to Christopher Hitchens, a man whom I originally detested, but had learned to respect tremendously over time and who died only 4 days earlier, I named the new hamster Christopher even though it was very clear to me that it was (and still is ^_^) a girl.

Christopher turns out to be rather skittish, but not nearly as much as Edzard-Aline and she has allowed me to pick her up a few times, even though it is obvious that she doesn't like it one bit. We will see what the future brings. I will definitely do my best to give her the happy life she can and should expect in my care.

I acquired Christopher on 19 December 2011 and I wish her a very happy and long life.


  1. Fine hamsters those are. Growing up we had hamsters, guinea pigs and even white mice. I sure did enjoy them too. My best to you and Christopher and kudos to you for your caring of small creatures.

    1. Thanks for the nice message, Kathleen! You are officially the first commenter!

      Haa, growing up! My youth may not have been the happiest, but I also had a number of interesting animals. At the time, my beloved snakes were at the top of my list, with the rats a close second. I will never forget how they kept me company when I was at university.

      Rats are night-owls, of course. And I remember vividly how they played and chattered the whole night... and how -every now and then- they had an obvious disagreement!

      I've had guinea pigs too, but they were a dismal failure. Sure, they grew, got babies, but I've never managed to hold a guinea pig without feeling bad for it, because it was so obvious that it was scared to death. Too bad really, for guinea pigs seem to have so much going for them.

      I said hello to Christopher for you. She is snoring away in her nesting ball/bowl at less than 20 cm from my left elbow. It's true!

      Have a lovely day!

  2. I've never had little creatures such as this...as you know, I have an extreme fear of snakes, and the closest I have ever been to a hamster or guinea pig were either because my step-kids had them or another family member did.

    Me--I am a dog and cat person...preferably dogs though!

    1. Difficult choice between dogs and cats. It's almost the same as the choice between rats and hamsters. I would love to have a doggy, but it's just not an option. That's why I am always hesitating between a rat and a hamster. However, the truth is that a rat is too social for me. Rats need company, and I can't give that to them. Hamsters need company like we need a hole in the head. So, because of that, hamsters are a good choice for me.

      Just be careful with those dogs and cats. They will want to eat my little friend!

    2. Don't be so judgemental about dogs and cats! ;) I have a dog, 2 cats, and we also have a hamster and a mouse in the house. Now, the dog and one of the cats are best friends, (they sleep and play together) the other cat is simply old, and isn't too social apart form the times he decides he needs a scratch behind the ear. (ever more often as he get older)
      Contrary to the dog's friendship with the cats, he chases off those that don't belong to us, and defends our two cats. But the best thing is that next to his usual hunts for mice outside when we go for a walk, my dog guards the mouse when his cage is being cleaned. The mouse goes into a bucket, and the dog lays down next to it. If a cat comes inside the house for whatever reason while the mouse is out, (they're not allowed, only the dog) he growls at them. But apart from that, he's a cowardly bastard. Can't even sleep through a bigger storm without crying 'till he gets to sleep with someone. :D
      So no, dogs and cats don't always want to eat your little friend :)

      By the way, very interesting few pages on the site, looking forward to reading more about your cute little friend. :)

    3. Thanks, Gabriella! Obviously, you understood that I was half-joking, but you made a very good point nevertheless. Animals have their own personalities, and tat fact deserves to be recognised. I remember when I was at school, this was denied quite vehemently and everything was put down as "instinct", even though they were never really able to define what "instinct" actually means. And, of course, we were supposed to be "aware" and to have "free will". They weren't quite able to explain what those terms mean either. Not exactly a surprise now that current neuroscience is demonstrating more and more that the differences between "us" and "animals" are merely differences of degree, nothing more.

  3. Hi again Bart. My guinea pigs didn't seem too scared. They did mysteriously 'get away' though - meaning I think mom and dad gave them away for unknown reasons that may have had to do with not wanting them in the garage. Or heaven forbid, some ill fate that they didn't want to share and break our hearts about. I spent a long time looking for them though. I was duped somehow about their disappearance. The white mice had the tiniest babies - much to my surprise (and mom's too). On Christmas day they got out of their cage by accident. We weren't allowed to tell grandmother who came for dinner - hee hee. We found them though..

    1. Then you got good guinea pigs, or I was a bad guinea pig dad.

      Parents can be cruel some times, can't they. It was the same with my snakes. I had somehow talked them into letting me have two pythons (mind you, I paid for them and the terrarium and all the mouse/rat breeding equipment with my own very hard-earned money) and they were banned to the garage, because my father somehow thought that heating their terrarium would bankrupt him. Obviously, it didn't. The yearly cost in electricity at the time would have been less than a few dollars.

      Nevertheless, I was sent to boarding school and every time I came home, the heater was out, and the snakes were cold and weak. It broke my heart and there was nothing I could do about it, except for making a scene every time. And then, suddenly, they were gone. I never asked where. It didn't matter. It couldn't have been worse than they were in the garage. Needless to say, it did not do much to increase my love and respect for my parents. They were of a generation that wondered why the slaves revolted.

      White mice are so cute, aren't they! I had to breed them -and rats- to feed my snakes, but that doesn't mean I didn't like the mice. White mice taught me what mutations are: after having bred them from generation after generation, I suddenly ended up with a cream-coloured one. I'll never forget that.

  4. Christopher looks exactly like my hamster Anna. She's still quite young, around 4 months, but is tame and friendly and is happy to be handled and played with. She is huge already, and hardly fits through the Habitrail tubes and I'm worried she will get stuck so I'm looking at an alternative home for her.

    We also have Chinese dwarf hamsters and a couple of Roborovskis. It's great fun watching them all and noting the difference between the different types.

    Izzy, UK

    1. Anna is only a few months younger than Christopher. I am a little puzzled that she hardly fits the tubes. Maybe you should post a few pictures. Are you sure you are using the Habitrail OVO for Syrian hamsters? Also, don't forget that the tubes cannot be too wide, otherwise the hamster cannot hold on to the ridges inside the tubes and would simply slide down.