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Updates from the Team

First pups born at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre

Last year, we asked you for additional support so that we could start breeding marmots again at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre. Thanks to everyone’s gifts, we made the decision re-open breeding at the Facility in the fall.  

Today, we have wonderful news – the first pups born at the Centre! Sally and Pepsi are proud parents of 3 healthy and active pups. Vancouver Island marmots are slow breeders, and this is a full year ahead of when we expected to see our first pups. It is a wonderful surprise!

These pups will be released to the wild next year. They, and the future pups born at the Centre, will help us speed up the recovery the marmots’ wild population tremendously.

We owe a huge thank you to our donors and partners who have made this moment possible. We can’t thank you enough.

This is one of the pups peeking out from the rock structures in their outdoor pen.

 

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New Research out

We are very honored that research into how to maximize the success of released marmots has been selected as a Feature Paper by the Journal “Animal Conservation.” If you want a deeper look into the science side of our work, this paper and the accompanying expert commentaries are great way to explore some of the challenges and successes of reintroducing a critically endangered species back into the wild. You can read it all here: https://zslpublications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14691795/2019/22/2 

One of our central challenges is giving the marmots we release the best chance of survival possible. Unfortunately, there is no road map for this; no “tried and true” methodology for re-establishing a wild population that has been lost. As we experienced re-introduction successes and disappointments, it became clear that some colonies are much more ‘captive-born marmot friendly’ than others. Chief among these ‘friendly’ colonies is Mount Washington.

We thought it might be possible to use Mount Washington as a ‘stepping stone’ for captive-bred marmots. Would a year in the wild Mount Washington colony help naïve captive-bred marmots learn how to survive at the harsher, less forgiving colonies. To answer this question, we needed help. We’re good at the grunt work – releasing marmots, tracking them, capturing them, and moving them. But we needed help, a lot of help, to model population and survival dynamics over multiple cohorts of marmots with differing levels of wild experience. Fortunately, the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research and the US Geological Service were willing to contribute a significant amount of brain power to make sense of the data we collected.

The result? We now know that the stepping stone model dramatically improves the survival rate of released captive-bred marmots. The earliest analyses came in a couple years ago, and at that point we adopted the stepping stone model for all marmots being released to Strathcona Provincial Park.

Many thanks to our partners at the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research, and the U.S. Geological Service for their invaluable work. This would not have been possible without the people and funders who make our work possible. This work in particular was funded by the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, the Province of B.C., and donors like you.

We hope that in addition to guiding our efforts, this research will help other re-introduction programs make sound decisions about how to best assist small and fragile populations of some of world’s most endangered species.

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March’s Marmot of the Month is June

Possibly right now, the first marmots are beginning the long process of waking up in their hibernacula, becoming more and more restless as the snow above them begins to melt. Soon, they will begin to dig their way out through the dirt and snow, looking for food as their bodies recover from the rigors of hibernation.

For us, one of the great pleasures is seeing the first marmot of the year. Tracks, emergence holes, and telemetry provide us with much needed data, but there is still something special about the first time you lay eyes on a marmot. Will the first marmot we see in 2019 will the same marmot we spotted first last year?

Despite her name, Field Coordinator Mike Lester first spotted June late last April, on the Mount Washington Ski Hill. At 10 going on 11, June is one our older marmots. Born in the wild colony at Mount Washington, she has given birth to many pups over the years, though these days she is beginning to show her age. Her fur is a bit mangy, but we like to think it gives her extra character.  June often hangs out by the “Hawk unload,” one of the ski lift drop off points on the hill. As such, while she may not realize it, June is among the most photographed and watched of all wild Vancouver Island marmots.

We are looking forward to seeing June and her extended family, but we hope we have to wait a few more weeks for the first marmots to appear above ground. The longer snow stays on the ground, the better. Melting snow provides water to the meadows throughout the summer and fall, and in turn that provides the marmots with green, nutritious vegetation to eat all season. They need that food in the

It is important to note that June, or whichever marmot we first observe, is probably not the first marmot out of hibernation. Most of the marmot colonies are not accessible in the early season due to avalanche hazard, and we are able access Mount Washington much earlier than nearly any other site. The first marmot observation of the season is special to us, but there are other early risers, bringing marmot whistles back to mountains for another summer.  We can’t wait to see them too.

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Alan is our February Marmot of Month

The ocean is lovely, but it is not marmot habitat. So when we received a phone call in 2015 from the seaside Bamfield Marine Science Centre about a marmot at their facility, we were skeptical. It made no sense. There are no marmot colonies, no marmot habitat, and no reasons we could fathom for a marmot to be anywhere near Bamfield.

We requested evidence. To which Dr. Reynolds and his students responded by sending us a photo. Of a marmot, on the beach. It’s hard to say whether this mystery marmot was enjoying his visit to the shore, or confused about the lack of alpine flowers, but regardless, he was there, and we figured he might need some help getting back to mountains. With the help of Dr. Reynolds and his students, we were able to trap the marmot now dubbed “Alan,” and release him to the colony at Haley Lake Ecological Reserve.

At this point, you may have some questions. Where did Alan come from? We don’t know. How did survive the minimum of 50km (and probably much more) of forests, rivers, and inlets between the nearest marmot colonies and Bamfield? We don’t know that either. Does he enjoy surfing and nibbling on eelgrass? Please stop.

Why did Alan travel all that way? Well, yes, we don’t strictly speaking know that either, but we can guess at this one. At 2 years old, many marmots, particularly males, leave their birth colony to look for new potential mates. Sometimes, they get lost or pick the wrong direction. When you consider the vast mountain wilds and the relatively small and hidden marmot colonies, it is remarkable that marmots ever manage to find another colony, though many do. Our guess is that Alan however  picked the wrong direction and then just kept going.

Alan has continued his adventures, though thankfully choosing to stay in marmot habitat. After a three year tour of the Nanaimo Lakes region, he returned to Haley Lake, and is currently hibernating with Muffin. Hopefully, in the summer ahead Alan will finally try out being a Dad!

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Marmot Keeper and Marmot Technician postings closed

Thank you to everyone who expressed interest in the Marmot Technician and Marmot Keeper positions. We received over 350 applications for the positions, and will be reading all of them over the next couple weeks.
 
While we would love to hire everyone, unfortunately we only have a few positions available. Your enthusiasm for the marmots and our work warms our hearts during these cold winter months.

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Today, we released two marmots to the colony at Mount Washington. Ernest and Ezekiel were born at the Toronto Zoo, and today got their first taste of the wild.

They only have one year at Mount Washington however. Next year, we will move them to a more remote colony in Strathcona Park, where they will carry on the re-establishment of marmots in their historic range.
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Last year, we asked you for additional support so that we could start breeding marmots again at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre. Thanks to everyone’s gifts, we made the decision re-open breeding at the Facility in the fall.

Today, we have wonderful news – the first pups born at the Centre! Sally and Pepsi are proud parents of 3 healthy and active pups. Vancouver Island marmots are slow breeders, and this is a full year ahead of when we expected to see our first pups. It is a wonderful surprise!

These pups will be released to the wild next year. They, and the future pups born at the Centre, will help us speed up the recovery the marmots’ wild population tremendously.

We owe a huge thank you to our donors and partners who have made this moment possible. We can’t thank you enough.

This is one of the pups peeking out from the rock structures in their outdoor pen.
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Right now, staff at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre, the Toronto Zoo, and Calgary Zoo are listening for the sounds of pups. The pups stay in the burrow for a month or more, so right now listening is the only way for us to know who may have babies. We’re confident we’ve heard at a few pup noises, but only time will tell how many. In the wild, we won’t know anything until July, when the pups finally starting exploring the world outside their burrow. Until then, here’s some footage from last year to remind you what we’re waiting to see! ... See MoreSee Less

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