A Vancouver Island marmot is just about to be released on July 6 at Mount Washington. Photo by Erin Haluschak

Vancouver Island marmots released on Mount Washington

The population has been recovering since the species nearly went extinct

Four Vancouver Island marmots were released on Mount Washington Wednesday (July 6) – adding to the growing number of captive-bred marmots aimed to increase the species in the wild.

Adam Taylor, executive director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation said this year, the organization is releasing 25 marmots.

“Overall, the population actually did really well. We started the year with about 200 marmots in the will 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 moments (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.”

In 2021, the estimated wild marmot population increased to 258 – more than 30 per cent from 2020. 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.


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