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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 09:43 GMT
Hamster prices triple in China
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Hamster (file photo)
Hamsters can have a mean streak and deliver a nasty bite
Hamsters have become the must-have pet in China since the Year of the Rat began on 7 February.

Pet shop owners say stocks are running low - and prices high - as children clamour for a furry friend.

According to the Chinese media, prices have tripled to about 30 yuan ($4.20, 2.10) per hamster across the country.

In the Year of the Rat, this tiny creature has become the most acceptable rodent, a type of animal that is not everyone's first-choice pet.

"Rats and mice have a bad image, but hamsters are gentle. You can hold them in your hand and play with them," Xinhua News Agency reported.

By bringing up a pet, my son will learn about compassion and caring for animals
Chinese father

Pet stores are also reporting an increased interest in other, similar-looking creatures, such as chinchillas and squirrels.

But it is the hamster that appears to have caught the imagination at the start of a new lunar year in China.

One father told the media: "I've always wanted to buy my son a small animal and a hamster is an ideal choice.

"By bringing up a pet, my son will learn about compassion and caring for animals."

But there is a downside. Experts are warning that rodents have sharp teeth and can deliver a nasty bite.

Some could even be carrying the rabies virus.

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