Although hibernation isn’t quite over for the Vancouver Island marmots, there are some promising signs for researchers at the Marmot Recovery Foundation.
Adam Taylor, executive director with the organization said two marmots in captivity are spending their few waking moments in a productive fashion.
“They are engaging in reproductive activities, which is what we want. They’re up for about five to 10 minutes, then they are going back to sleep.”
The Vancouver Island Marmot population has been recovering since the species nearly went extinct in the early 2000s, but thanks to The Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation, their population has risen, particularly with 106 pups born within the past two years.
In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; in 2020, it reached 46.
VIMRF works with the Toronto and Calgary zoos for their captive-breeding programs in addition to their facility on Mount Washington. Last year, they released 14 marmots into the wild from the program and three were translocated to enhance other colonies.
Two marmots at the Mount Washington facility who are catching the eye of researchers are Eugenie and Pepsi – whose actions were caught on the facility’s security cameras. Taylor noted they have cautious optimism for the pair who added are “quite frisky” – a promising sign for potential pups as there is a predictor between the frequency and length of copulation and producing pups.
“We try and match (the marmots) on genetics because we want to retain the genetic diversity,” explained Taylor. “We match on paternity. Each year Pepsi is paired with someone new and we watch copulation and the behaviour of marmots as those who hibernate together tend to get along.”
If successful, Eugenie could be carrying her first litter soon – a success for those aiming to increase the population on the Island. Each litter could have between two and six pups, and with a gestation period of about a month, pups may arrive by June.
As for those out in the wild, Taylor said transmitters implanted into the marmot’s bodies allow researchers to track their pulse in order to follow when they emerge from hibernation. During this period, a marmot’s heart rate generally records one or two beats per minute.
On Mount Washington, marmots will begin to emerge approximately around the last week of April, and the foundation’s field team will start May 1, noted Taylor.
For more information about the Vancouver Island Marmot and the foundation, visit marmots.org.