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Pups Born In Captivity – 2015

Fifteen new marmot pups are facing a brighter future.

The Vancouver Island marmot captive population serves two important and distinct purposes. First, it is a safety-net or life-boat population to protect the species from the threat of extinction, and secondly it produces healthy new recruits, like the pups born this spring ready for release in 2016, to rebuild the wild populations.

Captive breeding is an intensive means to rescue an endangered species from the brink of extinction before it is too late to intervene. Fortunately for the Vancouver Island marmot it was not too late and the release of captive-born recruits is succeeding to increase the population. Of course numbers aren’t the complete story. There are many other obstacles for the marmots to overcome before they can be declared safely recovered.

The captive population is carefully maintained to protect its genetic diversity. Marmots are selected for breeding, or release to the wild, based on their relative genetic importance and kinship (to avoid inbreeding). This careful management has retained over 96% of the original founders’ genetic diversity.

The original 55 wild-born founders were captured between 1997 and 2004. Since the birth of the very first Vancouver Island marmot pups in captivity in 2000, 167 weaned litters have been born totalling 566 pups.

Remember Snow?

Each spring, field crew visit Vancouver Island marmot colonies to determine which marmots survived the winter. As part of this task, they also scour the mountain tops to locate the special burrows that marmots hibernate in (called a “hibernaculum”). Usually, this is a fairly easy task. You see, marmots hibernate underground, and so their feet, nose and tummy get covered in soil. In spring, when marmots leave their hibernacula and dig up through several feet of snow to the surface, marmots create a dirty-looking tunnel in the snow that we call an “emergence hole”.

But there’s something missing this spring that we usually see in other years, particularly in the Nanaimo Lakes region. We’ll give you a hint it’s fluffy, white, and a great insulator for hibernating marmots…that’s right, we’re talking about snow! This past winter, there was very little snow at the Nanaimo Lakes marmot colonies. This means that these marmots didn’t even have to dig emergence holes this spring – they just stepped out of their burrows! So in order to show you what an emergence hole looks like, we took a photo at one of the fledgling colonies in Strathcona Provincial Park, where marmots woke up this spring with at least a little bit of snow to dig through.

Hide and Seek

Our field season kicked off on May 1st, and in their very first week on the project, field crew already discovered something new and exciting – there was an extra litter of marmot pups on Mt. Washington last year! Vancouver Island marmot pups are rarely seen above ground before early July. By this time, the vegetation around their burrow has grown really tall. Pups are excellent at hiding, and so it can be a challenge to see them when they don’t want to be seen. This litter could have won any game of Hide and Seek!

Vancouver Island marmot pups are born in early June, and so these four pups haven’t quite reached their first birthday. But they have survived their first summer and their first hibernation, which is a really good sign. Keep up the great work, pups!

Meet This Year’s Field Crew

The Vancouver Island marmot field crew is back and better than ever!

This year’s field crew will be guided by crew leader Mike Lester and
returning crew members Shawn Lukas and Patrick Reid. Over time, we’ve found that the most important qualities for field crew are enthusiasm, tenacity, and a curiosity to learn more. You’ll be happy to know that these three have this in spades!

We are also excited to welcome new crew members to our project. Andrew Horsfield, Hannah Hall, Zachary Palmer, and Trevor Dickinson are the fantastic new talent we brought in to help us achieve our recovery goals this summer. With such a keen group of marmoteers, we know that the Vancouver Island marmot is in good hands this summer!

Check in again for our wild updates.

It’s spring and we’re off to an early start!

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After a very light winter with almost no snow on many of our lower elevation colonies, the marmots were up early this spring. This was confirmed by one of our returning field crew, who was so excited for another marmot season that he couldn’t quite wait until our official start date on May 1st. According to his report, the marmots were playing, fighting, foraging, and doing all kinds of marmoty activities. It seems that humans weren’t the only animals impatient for spring to start!

Since it is May 1st, we must wish you a very happy Vancouver Island Marmot Day! To celebrate this year’s VI Marmot Day, we are thrilled to have something extra-special to share with you. While working out in the field and conducting inventory at marmot colonies, our field crew have gathered hundreds of hours of video footage of Vancouver Island marmots in the wild…and so we created a YouTube channel so that we can share some of these videos with you! We will post just a few videos at first, but check in with us over the course of the field season, and we’ll post new ones as often as we can. We hope you will enjoy watching them as much as we did.

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq9BDTTw9n9_3njOL277VIw

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Time for another round of Spot the .. well, not a marmot! Can you find, and identify, the little fellow our monitoring camera caught? ... See MoreSee Less

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Melissa Hafting captured these wonderful photos of Eowyn at Mt Washington earlier this month.

Eowyn was named by Toronto Zoo staff after a character in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of Rings book. The character in the books is a fierce warrior, but we hope our marmot understands that discretion is the better part of valor. Marmots should "take on" predators with a brave whistle to warn the rest of the colony, followed by sensibly ducking into a nearby burrow, dug for just such an occasion.

Eowyn was released to Mt Washington on July 5th. She is just 1 year old, but hopefully in couple years she will have pups to share with us.

Thank you Melissa for the amazing photos!
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These marmots aren't fighting, they are "pair-bonding." While they push and pull, you can also see them touch noses throughout the video; a classic Vancouver Island marmot "love you boop".

These marmots are on Flower Ridge in Strathcona Provincial Park. Marmots were extirpated from the Park by the 1990s, but with the funding from the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, and the support of donors like yourselves, we've been able to re-introduce the marmots back to a number of their historic colonies sites, including this one!

Their survival in the Park, and the wild, is still fragile, but if the romance continues between these two, perhaps we'll see a population boosting litter of pups next spring!
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