How did Syrian hamsters become pets?

It was the quest to overcome the parasitic blood illness called leishmaniasis that was ultimately to lead to these hamsters becoming popular pets throughout the world. Israel Aharoni, who was working in the zoology department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, managed to trap a female along with her 11 offspring in a wheat field on Mount Aleppo in Syria.

Unfortunately, she then started to attack her pups, leaving Aharoni and his wife to hand-rear them. They made the mistake of housing these rodents in a cage with a wooden floor. Five of the young hamsters gnawed their way out and escaped, leaving just four to form the breeding nucleus for the research project.

The group proved prolific however, to the extent that they produced over 150 offspring in a year. Two pairs of these were smuggled into Britain in 1931 for further research. Some of their offspring in turn were then given to London Zoo, and Syrian hamsters were first kept as pets in 1937.

The British Hamster Club was then established in 1945, and for more than 40 years, all of the Syrian or golden hamsters around the world were direct descendants of the original stock obtained by Aharoni. Even today, the likelihood is that your pet will be related to this original group. Only one example has been brought from Syria direct into the UK since then.
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