Vancouver Island Marmot
The Vancouver Island Marmot is endemic to Vancouver Island, and one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Thanks to recovery efforts, the wild population has been increasing in recent years. At its lowest point in 2003, only 30 marmots remained in the wild, but by 2016 numbers had increased to nearly 300.
The Vancouver Island Marmot lives in alpine and sub-alpine meadows. It feeds on foliage during the spring and summer, and will raise 3 to 4 pups every other year. Amazingly, the marmot will hibernate for 7 months of the year, one of only a few mammals that hibernate for longer than they are awake. Currently, there are marmots on 20-30 mountains on Vancouver Island.
Recovery efforts are led by a partnership that includes the Marmot Recovery Foundation, the Provincial Government, the Recovery Team, the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, and landowners TimberWest, Island Timberlands, and Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Thousands of Canadians donate to support the recovery efforts.
Important populations of Vancouver Island Marmots are found west of Nanaimo within private forests lands owned by TimberWest and Islands Timberlands. These companies have been very active in supporting the recovery of the marmots. To support conservation of these species, the land owners have been making significant annual financial contributions for research and management of the marmots and have postponed logging in marmot habitat in one area near Mt. Washington.
Mount Washington Alpine Resort has also donated land for the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Captive Breeding Center and has been providing winter monitoring of the center for the past 3 winters. In addition, the resort has been working with the Marmot Recovery Foundation to maintain ski runs and avoid development in areas that would negatively affect the marmots.
The greatest threat to the marmot is its small population. A captive breeding program, led by the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, produces pups that are released to the wild by the Marmot Recovery Foundation. In 2016, 13 captive bred marmots were released to Mount Washington and Strathcona Provincial Park.
An additional 13 marmots were translocated from Mount Washington to Strathcona Park in 2016. These marmots have experience living in the wild, and the Recovery Team is studying whether they are better prepared for life in more remote locations. Additionally, marmots that travel into inappropriate habitats are re-located to colonies where they have the potential to find a mate.
While much of the Vancouver Island Marmot’s habitat is in good condition, tree in-growth is becoming a greater concern at many sites; a potential side effect of milder winters. The Nature Trust of BC has restored marmot habitat through tree clearing at Green Mountain, and more work is planned at other sites. Supplementary food is provided at a number of colonies in the spring, because the extra feeding has been observed to improve reproductive success of wild marmots.
The Marmot Recovery Foundation monitors the wild population through on-the-ground and aerial surveys to detect implanted transmitters. The information gathered as a part of this monitoring is used to guide recovery effort decision making.