BRUSSELS - France has failed to protect the Great Hamster of Alsace, a cute fur-ball facing extinction with fewer than 200 remaining, Europe's top court said Thursday.
"Protection measures for the Great Hamster put in place by France were insufficient at the date of August 5, 2008, to ensure the strict protection of the species," the European Court of Justice ruled.
The European Commission brought the case before the court, arguing that France has not applied European Union law covering protected species.
The hamster, Cricetus cricetus, an animal that hibernates for six months and spends the vast majority of its life alone, has been protected legally since 1993 but is now only found in fields around the eastern French city of Strasbourg.
Commission figures show its numbers fell from 1,167 in 2001 to as few as 161 in 2007.
The creature, which can grow to 10 inches (25 centimeters) long, has a brown and white face, a black belly and white paws. In old times, the paws were much prized by farmers who made them into trinkets.
The preferred grazing of the Great Hamster of Alsace -- forage crops such as alfalfa -- have largely been replaced by the more profitable maize, which it cannot abide.
France has previously given subsidies to farmers to grow alfalfa or wheat, but the commission wants it to do more.
Image: ehasenle / via Flickr