Four Vancouver Island marmots were released near the C0mox Valley yesterday - adding to the growing number of captive-bred marmots aimed to increase the threatened species in its only natural habitat.
Including the quartet freed July 6 on the slopes of Mount Washington, Adam Taylor, executive director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation, said the organization will introduce 25 marmots to the wild this year.
“Overall, the population actually did really well. We started the year with about 200 marmots in the wild and finished the year with about 258,” he says. “Mount Washington itself was pretty hard hit as there was a cougar that ate a lot of the marmots that live here, which is really unusual.”
The Island marmot is endemic to Canada and one of only a small handful of mammals to occur in the country and nowhere else. In 2004, less than 30 remained in the wild. The population has been recovering since the species nearly went extinct, but thanks to the foundation, their population has risen.
The Marmot Recovery Foundation works with the Toronto and Calgary zoos for their captive-breeding programs in addition to their facility on Mount Washington.
As for this year, Tayor notes it is still too early to estimate population as many of the marmot sites are covered in snow which makes it difficult to access areas. He admits there is some concern that access to vegetation may be compromised as marmots emerge from hibernation.
“Our fingers are crossed that what we’ve seen at Mount Washington is the environment which seems to be doing okay - they’re just like a couple of weeks behind schedule. So hopefully that’s the case everywhere.”
A cougar attack last year affected not only the population but the staff of the MRF.
“It’s particularly difficult at a site like Mount Washington where we’re here; we have staff that work at the mountain. So in the evening, they would detect the movements (of the marmots) and know they were alive. And they’d come back in in the morning and they were dead. We know all of these marmots by name. My favourite marmot was one of the ones who died last year, and it hurts.”
According to the foundation, there were at least 74 pups weaned in the wild in 2021.
For more information on the foundation, visit marmots.org.