Jessie and friends, (from left) Marvel (Yellow pudding hybrid), Cupid (Russian Winter White), Marble (Russian Winter White) and Huggie (Russian Pearl White).

There are 21 occupants in Jessie Tan’s four-room HDB apartment. There’s her sister, her parents and Jessie. And there’re also 17 hamsters.

 

So many fur balls, you say. That’s actually down from the 175 hamsters that populated Jessie’s home a few years ago and which made life in her apartment rather interesting, before the numbers dwindled through natural attrition. Life is less frenetic though it is still packed these days for the life sciences graduate, whose day job is in research space administration.

 

After hours, it’s quality time with her eighth generation of hamster breeds and hybrids — the Campbells (not the soup), Djungarians, Romulans, Klingons (just kidding) — as well as her boyfriend, who has to endure the competition for Jessie’s attention.

 

Spend long enough time with someone, she says, and you get to know that person rather well. And so it is with her (we’re talking about hamsters here) pets. So, after nearly two decades of hamster breeding that involved more than 200 of the tiny creatures, Jessie is a veritable expert on the rodents.

Each of her pets is an individual, identifiable through its character, appearance, colour, habits and responses to training. For instance, the animals can be trained to react in a particular way through the use of sounds and sights. They also “interact” (Jessie-speak for hamster-squeak) with one another, squabble like human siblings and develop different behaviours during maturity. In fact, Jessie says hamster couples even experience mid-life crises, much like us homo sapiens. To the extent that one half of a hamster couple could turn its back on its partner. Really.

 

“I believe that your nature is one thing, and your upbringing is another,” says Jessie. In other words, it comes down to pedigree. And so it is too with hamsters, which breed exponentially like, um, rabbits, thus accounting for that 175-strong colony a few years ago. But in case you think Jessie’s only about little furry creatures, she wants you to know she’s also an avid traveller and explorer of local food.

 

Still, there’s no mistaking her fondness for the animals, which are classified as rodents belonging to the subfamily Cricetinae. And she’s ready and willing to ham it up with anyone keen and curious enough to want to know more about these short-sighted and colour-blind omnivores. All that’s needed to get a lively discussion going with Jessie? In your best Potter voice, exclaim, “Mesocricetus auratus!”