In Alsace, releases of European hamsters to compensate for the impact of a highway – 06/15/2022 at 4:38 PM


A large Alsatian hamster in its cage released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in Bas-Rhin (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

Vinci, who operates a new motorway near Strasbourg with controversial environmental implications, was forced to commit to a program to re-introduce the common Alsatian hamster, an emblematic species whose habitat is threatened by human activity.

“I wish everyone would leave with their fingers”: Célia Schapeller laughs as she talks to one of the press photographers who sees the small mammal with a snout studded with white spots emerging from the wire mesh of the wooden cage from which he is waiting to be released into this piece of wheat. Under a harsh and early sun, 60 large hamsters have to be spawned again that morning.

clap! The hatch opens and the “cricetus cricetus”, scientific name of the rodent, falls into the approximately 80 cm deep pre-dug burrow, immediately covered with agglomerated straw.

“The goal is for them to come out in the evening when there is less risk of bird of prey attacks,” said Célia Schappeller, a caretaker at the Sauvage Faune Sauvage (SFS) association, which raised individuals in captivity for this great day. .

Also known as the “European hamster”, the animal is listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. An electric fence is also there to avoid predators on land: foxes, badgers or even cats.

Members of Vinci Autoroutes transport cages with large hamsters from Alsace to be released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in the Bas-Rhin region (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

Members of Vinci Autoroutes transport cages with large hamsters from Alsace to be released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in the Bas-Rhin region (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

On three hectares, the operation is repeated according to a methodical plan to avoid consanguinity in the burrows and to respect a male-female alternation to encourage fruitful encounters.

“Our operation aims to strengthen the existing population,” confirms Arnaud Guillemain, the environmental manager of Vinci Autoroutes. The releases take place a few hundred meters as the crow flies from the new A355, Strasbourg’s controversial Great Western Bypass (JRC).

– Legal obligation –

Inaugurated in December after more than 40 years of controversy and local opposition, this 24 km tolled dual carriageway, intended to relieve congestion in the Alsatian capital, is the first infrastructure project born with a legal obligation to prevent the loss of biodiversity. compensate. law.

Members of Vinci Autoroutes are preparing to release large Alsatian hamsters into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in Bas-Rhin (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

Members of Vinci Autoroutes are preparing to release large Alsatian hamsters into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in Bas-Rhin (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

“After building (the highway) on agricultural plots, especially with wheat fields that are the habitat of the European hamster, we compensated on other plots of wheat,” summarizes Mr Guillemain.

This reintegration mechanism, initiated in 2017 when work began, has already enabled the reintroduction of 800 units.

The first group of motorway concessions in France has thus joined “dozens of farmers” who commit themselves not to grow maize for 10 years, a culture that drives women to cannibalism, but rather to preserve wheat or standing alfalfa, beneficial to “Kornferkel” , the name of the big hamster in Alsace, literally “grain pig”.

A large Alsatian hamster in its cage released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in Bas-Rhin (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

A large Alsatian hamster in its cage released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in Bas-Rhin (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

An “umbrella” or “sentinel” species, “the hamster is a good indicator of the viability of an agricultural system,” notes Timothée Gérard, 25, whose dissertation in biology, conducted with the CNRS and the University of Strasbourg, is funded by Vinci Autoroutes.

“Current field treatments,” coupled with conventional farming, mean there is “a fairly significant reduction in soil quality, with insect communities disappearing.”

– “Anachronistic operation” –

“The hamster didn’t wait for the highway to disappear! It was the monoculture of corn and the pesticides that ruined us,” annoys Jean-Paul Burget. The emblematic president of SFS, who had France condemned by the European Court of Justice in 2011 for not doing enough to protect the animal, believes that the JRC’s compensation measures will ultimately allow “a renewal of biodiversity”.

A large Alsatian hamster released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in the Bas-Rhin region (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

A large Alsatian hamster released into the wild on June 14, 2022 in Ernolsheim-Bruche, in the Bas-Rhin region (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)

Obliged to reduce the impact of his work, Vinci has also built passageways that have been buried or raised to allow wildlife, including the hamster, to cross the highway, even if Mr Gérard admits the animal’s “low dispersal capacity” , a few hundred meters only, “unlike the stork”, a successful reintroduction in Alsace.

“These release operations do not make it possible to restore a sufficient population core”, regrets Stéphane Giraud, director of the Alsace Nature association, which denounces “an anachronistic communication operation” and “counts results that are not at the rendezvous”. vous – be you”.

In Alsace, 488 burrows had been identified by the French Biodiversity Agency by 2021, it would take three times more for the species to survive according to the National Action Plan.

“There is something wrong with the method of reintroduction, when the species has been protected since 1993,” added Giraud, advocating micro-plots and a review of the facilities.

Last January, an opinion from the Environmental Authority had shattered the impact of the JRC’s environmental study submitted by Vinci.

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