Photo: Courtesy of Hamster Society Singapore
Singapore is facing some pandemic woes, including an uptick in COVID-19 infections and drastically tightened social distancing measures. Now, the city-state is also plagued by a perhaps unexpected outcome of lockdown impulse buying—a hamster abandonment problem.
Early this month, the Hamster Society Singapore (HSS), a local non-profit organization, said in a Facebook post that there has been a surge in abandoned pet hamsters since the start of the year. Appealing to the public to help reduce hamster rescue numbers, the HSS noted that they’re carrying out rescue operations at an increased frequency, with four undertaken in April alone.Zylia Heng, the head of the HSS foster team, told VICE that the organization has taken in almost 700 hamsters since the start of 2020, a large increase compared to around 200 hamsters in 2019. These include animals that were abandoned in public areas and those surrendered to the organization. Heng attributed this startling surge to impulse pet purchases during the country’s lockdown period from April to May 2020, also known as the “circuit breaker.”“After last year’s circuit breaker, we experienced many more abandonments and surrender requests as many owners had to go back to work and didn’t have time to care for their pet hamsters anymore,” she said.Abandoned hamsters that are rescued by the HSS often sport disturbing injuries. One Syrian hamster (also known as a golden hamster) rescued on May 7 reportedly had a severe cataract in one eye and an infection in the other. According to its foster parent, the hamster also gave the “most distressing screams” when handled by the vet.
This year, the HSS has rescued hamsters from across the country, suggesting that the trend of hamster abandonment is a nationwide problem. According to Heng, many abandonment cases may be attributed to the major misconception among parents that hamsters make “good starter pets” for their kids. When new hamster owners realize just how tedious the taming process really is, children often lose interest and parents subsequently choose to abandon or surrender their pet hamsters.
Hamsters are affordable and readily available, making them easy targets for impulse pet-buying.“Impulsive purchases of pet hamsters and getting them as surprise gifts for friends and family are also very common,” said Heng. “When one does not do proper research before buying [or] receiving a hamster, they will often get overwhelmed with the amount of time and effort that goes into hamster care.”Some owners also abandon or surrender their hamsters when they fall ill or multiply as a result of accidental breeding.Contrary to popular belief, hamsters should not be crammed into the same cage. According to Heng, hamsters are territorial animals who prefer to have their space. Keeping one hamster in a single, appropriately-sized cage can prevent fights and overbreeding. Heng and her colleagues at the HSS usually keep rescued hamsters for at least two weeks of observation, during which they look out for any pregnancies or injuries, and tame them before putting them up for adoption.
Without a physical shelter to house rescued hamsters, the recent surge in abandoned or surrendered hamsters is spreading the HSS’ 37-member foster team thin. Now, they each take home hamsters waiting to be adopted. There are currently 70 hamsters in the HSS’ foster care, 10 of which are unadoptable due to old age or severe illness. One such “forever foster” is Duncan, who Heng explained was surrendered to the HSS in April with a severe yeast infection. While some hamsters, like Duncan, manage to recover from their medical conditions, others aren’t so lucky.Miffy, who was abandoned in June 2020, was found with a large ulcerating tumor and died before she was able to undergo surgery. Another, Lulu, was suffering from severe glaucoma and a mites infection when she was surrendered to the HSS. She died after four days in foster care. While the surge in disowned hamsters is recent, Singapore’s pet abandonment problem is one that has been around for years. Besides hamsters, routine rescues of dogs, cats, and rabbits sometimes see local animal shelters stretched to their limit. In some cases, being in quarantine can lead to a higher demand for pet adoption, but various rescue groups around the world have also reported a rise in abandoned pets during the pandemic.Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.