Isn’t extinction a normal part of evolution?

Of the thousands of endangered species in the world, 98% of the extinction threats are caused by human activity; only 2% are the result of natural evolution.

The world is currently losing species at a rate similar to the great extinction during the dinosaur age; thought to have been caused by a single catastrophic event. It took millions of years to replace some of that lost diversity in an environment that was poised to do just that.

The extinctions we’re seeing today are the result of a gradual deterioration, largely due to pressures from human populations, which aren’t expected to stop. But these threats of extinctions along the way serve as wake up calls to us; and ask us to reflect on what it truly means to be human and what it is we hold dear.

We must ask ourselves, what kind of a world do we want to leave for our children and our children’s children?

When will the recovery efforts be finished?

Recovering a species from the brink of extinction is a complex and challenging task and doesn’t happen over night. But if the recovery efforts were simplified to three main steps, they would be:

  1. Safeguard the remaining population
  2. Ensure breeding to increase population size
  3. Restore the population in the wild

Step one and step two have been accomplished through the success of our captive breeding program. The most difficult task of  restoring the Vancouver Island marmot to their natural habitat in the wild remains ahead of us. There are too many variables to estimate the timeline for the successful completion of this last phase of the recovery.

The southern population is close. Releases to the south will be stopped this year to assess the sustainability of this important metapopulation. The successes in the south must be replicated in the remaining regions of the marmots range. Restoring the metapopulations in the central and northern regions envisioned in the Recovery Strategy will take additional persistent releases for the marmots to gain the footholds necessary to rebuild the colonies there.

Calling a rescue mission over before the sustainability of the population is determined would be like flying half way to the moon and calling it a moon landing. Our work is not done until the Vancouver Island marmot is safely recovered in the wild on Vancouver Island where they belong and their long-term survival is assured.

Did You Know?

During hibernation the marmot’s heart slows to 3 or 4 beats per minute, compared to 110 to over 200 beats per minute during activity.

Vancouver Island marmots love peanut butter! Our crew uses peanut butter as bait to lure marmots into the Have-a-Heart traps for tagging and transporting.

Marmots are also known as “whistle pigs” because of their shrill whistles. The Vancouver Island marmot has five different vocalizations — more than any other marmot species.

Scientists in Russia and France shared important and useful information about breeding and releasing marmots from their experience with bobac and steppe marmots.

Vancouver Island marmots hibernate for nearly 7 months of the year!

What is the best way to help make sure the Vancouver Island marmot is safely recovered?

Persistent releases of captive bred or translocated wild marmots are needed to rebuild the historical population levels to the point the Vancouver Island marmot is no longer threatened by extinction.

As a non-profit charitable organization, the Marmot Recovery Foundation depends on the generosity of public individuals to carry on the strenuous work of recovering this uniquely Canadian species. If the tap of support is turned off before the marmots are safely recovered in the wild, they could easily slip back towards the abyss of extinction. We can’t let that happen.

It has taken thousands of caring individuals, as well as corporate and government partners, for the marmots to regain the levels they have today. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that while they may be safe as a species in captivity they are not yet recovered in the wild.

It will take a few more years of support before the marmots are safely restored and ready to continue to recover on their own. I hope you will join us today to make sure that happens by adopting a marmot through the adopt a marmot program. That is the best way to help. (Learn more)

Where can Vancouver Island marmots be seen in the wild?

Mt Washington is the best place to see a Vancouver Island marmot in the wild. The other colonies are remote and difficult to access, requiring multiple day hikes or helicopter access. However, the Mt Washington ski resort provides easy access to the Mt Washington colony sites and lodging can be found in nearby Comox. Please contact us for details.

Why is it important to recover and protect the Vancouver Island marmot?

The Vancouver Island marmot is one of the most rare and endangered animals in the world. They are even more rare than the giant panda or mountain gorilla.

British Columbians overwhelmingly agree we have a responsibility to save threatened and endangered species. But if we expect other countries to protect their wildlife, we must do our part here at home. Otherwise, there is little hope for the animals of the world.

Extinction would be a tragedy, not just for Canadians, but for the world. Saving our Canadian marmot from the brink of extinction will send a message to the world showing that people can work together to a common purpose that will help all species at risk.

And recovery is achievable – given the will and the commitment.

I just saw a marmot, what should I do?

Our field crews work very hard, but they can’t be everywhere at once, and Vancouver Island is a BIG place.

It’s a fact that most marmot colonies discovered during the 1980s and 1990s were not found by biologists, but by loggers, hunters and hikers.

So if you’re out and about on Vancouver Island and see a marmot, you can make a significant contribution to the project by taking careful notes of what you see and emailing us or calling us at:

marmots@telus.net or 1-877-4MARMOT (1-877-462-7668)

Please make sure to leave:

  • Your name and telephone number or email (This is really important so we can contact you)
  • The date and time of day
  • Specific location (a dot on a photocopied 1:50,000 NTS map would be ideal) or make sure you take careful notes describing natural land markers and compass directions
  • The number of marmots seen or heard
  • Any other details (Did you see pups? What were the marmots doing? Did you see ear-tags? Have you seen marmots before?)

Can I volunteer at the Recovery Centre?

The Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre (and all of the partner breeding facilities) are under permanent quarantine. An important safety measure to safeguard the species from the accidental introduction of disease as we release animals from the Recovery Centre into the wild population. None of the marmot areas at the breeding centres are open to the public for this reason.

Can we visit the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre?

Currently there are no public displays of Vancouver Island marmots. They are kept under strict quarantine to reduce the risk of introducing disease to the wild population, but as the population grows in the wild the chances of spotting one in the subalpine meadows of Vancouver Island becomes more and more likely. The Mt Washington ski hill is a good place to look for them.

What are the main predators of the Vancouver Island marmot?

The main predators of Vancouver Island marmots are wolves, cougars and golden eagles. But the marmot population has always been small and incapable of supporting a predator population. Vancouver Island marmots are killed opportunistically as predators hunt other more plentiful prey such as deer, elk and rabbit.

Why are Vancouver Island marmots endangered?

It is speculated that ongoing landscape changes on the Island had coinciding impacts on predator and prey populations as well as on Vancouver Island marmot populations. The boom and bust population dynamics of predators and prey may have been much more extreme over recent decades, exacerbated by the constraints of an island environment. In years with greater numbers of predators and fewer prey, this could have shifted “unnatural” pressures onto marmot populations.

Vancouver Island marmots would never have been plentiful enough to support a predator population because of the scarcity of their habitat. Instead, marmots are killed opportunistically while predators hunt more plentiful species such as elk, deer or rabbit. But the impacts of an “unbalanced ” predator prey relationship may have been enough to drive this unique species to the brink of extinction.