ONCFS – Portrait

DSC03706Charlotte Kourkgy - The LIFE ALISTER project leader at the ONCFS - An agronomist with a Master’s degree in ecology

From wolves to the European Hamster – that certainly seems strange, doesn’t it?

I arrived at the National Hunting and Wildlife Bureau in 2011, for my Master’s Degree internship. While speaking with my colleagues, I learned that there was an unusual rodent in Alsace that a lot of people were talking about. Just like wolves, which I studied before, the European Hamster was a victim of cohabitation between men and their activities, and nature. And I wanted to rise to the challenge of working to preserve a species formerly considered as a nuisance!

Why did you join the LIFE ALISTER Project and what is your mission in this programme?

I think that the largest challenge in the preservation of the European Hamster is to accommodate the needs of all stakeholders. Some see it as hampering urban and economic development, whereas others see it as a fantastic indicator of a healthy ecological environment in farmlands; what we say is an “umbrella species.” In my opinion, joining this programme with its multiple partners meant understanding contrasting points of view, and leaving my own comfort “den.”

I work in close cooperation with the Alsace Chamber of Agriculture. We are trying to develop agricultural practices that are more favourable to this species. My role consists in monitoring hamsters in their natural environment, in order to see if that habitat that we modify using so-called innovative practices, will be all right for them.

So what does this monitoring consist in?

Hamsters come out of their hibernation period at the beginning of April and we try to capture them and mark them so that we can recognize them the next time they are captured. Female hamsters are equipped with transmitters that allow us to locate them and identify the dens where they’ll probably raise their litter. Then we lay photo traps, that shoot pictures when there is movement near the den, in order to see if there are baby hamsters present.

If we can prove that females who live in an improved farmland live longer and have a better reproduction rate than that on conventional farmland (more births during the season of activity), we can then validate the fact that it is favourable to the species.