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Updates from the Team

Marmot Matchmakers

Playing Marmot Matchmaker is an important part of our work, and we could not do it without you.  Your support has made it possible to pair up single wild marmots with captive born mates, and help the Vancouver Island Marmot population recover!

What does it take to match marmots?

First, is the obvious: you need two single marmots, one in the hand and one in the meadow (so to speak). The real problem is finding them! “We observe known marmot colonies closely, but sometimes young marmots will disperse to a new mountain home,” says the Foundation’s Cheyney Jackson. Expanding the wild population is one our primary goals, but tracking them down can be very challenging! Once located, Foundation staff can hike or airlift in selected marmots to help the fledgling colony grow. “Many of the most successful colonies we have today started out this way, and it is incredibly exciting when we find a marmot that dispersed somewhere new.”

In the captive breeding program, we know where all the marmots are, but there are still secrets to marmot love. One thing we have observed is that marmots that hibernate together often mate together in the spring. To make that happen, the Foundation’s Veterinarian Malcolm McAdie or staff at the captive breeding programs at the Toronto Zoo and Calgary Zoo will take hibernating marmots and put them into the same enclosure. The marmots start out in the separate hibernation boxes, but often when we check in a month or two later, they’ll be together in the same enclosure. The pups that result from these matches will be released to the wild in a year or two.

None of could happen without your support. Thank you for making it possible for us to recover this incredible and unique species!

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2019 Summary of Field Work

If you would like a deeper dive into the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s work, and the state of the Vancouver Island Marmot in the wild, read our 2019 Final Report. This report is intended primarily for our Recovery partners and researchers studying the Vancouver Island Marmot, but we encourage anyone with an interest in the marmot to read though it!

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Van Isle Violet delivers her 2020 Groundhogs Day Prediction

Though deep in hibernation, secure in a burrow beneath meters of rock and snow at Mount Washington, Van Isle Violet still managed to see her shadow early this Groundhog Day morning. It seems Vancouver Island will have to wait a bit for spring.

For the marmots, this may not be a bad thing. Violet for one may get to sleep-in this year. Plus a later winter may help more snow stick around. In summer, that melting snow keeps the marmots’ meadows green, and the plants nourishing, longer.

While more winter may not be the news you were hoping for, there has been some good news for us  marmot-lovers: the wild marmot population increased by about 17% in 2019. The population increase was thanks mostly to a large number of pups being born, particularly in the Nanaimo Lakes area. There good news from Strathcona Park too, where a new colony of marmots was discovered by hikers.

As for Van Isle Violet herself, she still has a few more months of hibernation, at least if her prediction holds up!

Van Isle Violet

For new Groundhog Day readers, Van Isle Violet is a Vancouver Island Marmot – a critically endangered species of marmot, or “Groundhog,” endemic to Vancouver Island. While Violet was born in the wild, like most Vancouver Island Marmots, she can trace her ancestry to a captive breeding program run by the Toronto Zoo, Calgary Zoo, and Marmot Recovery Foundation. The release of captive-bred marmots has enabled conservationists to recover the wild population from fewer than 30 individuals in 2003, the present estimate of approximately 200. 

Other partners in the recovery effort include the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Operations, and Rural Development, and private land owners Mosaic Forest Management and Mount Washington Alpine Resort. In addition to the Recovery Partners, funding is provided by individual donors, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., and the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Fund.


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Now hiring: Marmot Field Technicians

We are hiring Marmot Technicians for the summer! If you or someone you know is interested in a career in conservation, field biology, or related work, consider applying to join the summer field team!

The Marmot Recovery Foundation is seeking summer wildlife technicians to work with the critically endangered Vancouver Island Marmot. We are looking for enthusiastic, hard-working individuals that have a passion for wildlife love to work outdoors, and want to contribute towards the success of our exciting conservation program.

Number: 1-4 full-time, seasonal positions.
Contract length: Monday May 4 – Wednesday September 2, 2020, with some possibility of extension through September.
Contract structure: Fixed-term employment contract, starting at $2,780/month.
Project base: Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.

Main tasks and responsibilities include:
• Hiking for several hours a day under variable weather conditions on steep, rugged, mountainous terrain with a 30-40lb backpack.
• Precise and consistent collection of field data based on radio-telemetry and visual observations.
• Accurate and timely data entry.
• Live-trapping and care of marmots under the direction of the project veterinarian.
• Driving 4×4 trucks on active gravel resource roads, and occasional use of ATVs and/or snowmobiles.
• Camping on trips of up to 10 days in length (including sites with limited helicopter access).

This project is based in central Nanaimo. Start times can be as early as 4am and field days can be very long. In the past, we have hired exceptional individuals living outside of the Nanaimo area; however, all candidates MUST have
the capacity to drive to Nanaimo for the start of each field day (no reimbursement for personal fuel or mileage will be offered). Due to the short length of the field season and the high likelihood that weather will disrupt work
plans and scheduled days off, candidates cannot always be assured of conventional weekends and must have the flexibility to work at any time during the contract period.

Successful candidates will possess:
• A Class 5 Drivers License (or equivalent).
• First Aid – minimum OFA Level 1.
• A high level of physical fitness and stamina.
• Experience with multi-day backcountry camping trips.
• Experience driving 4×4 and all-terrain vehicles in steep, mountainous terrain.
• A detail-oriented mindset and the ability to remember and follow specific directions regarding data collection protocols and animal care.
• A commitment to adhering to safety protocols and contributing to safe operating practices.
• Strong communication skills, a positive attitude, and the ability to contribute to a fun and supportive team environment.
• Experience working around and caring for animals would be an asset.

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and the names and contact information for three references to the Field Coordinator, Cheyney Jackson, at: resumes@marmots.org.

Applications must be received by 4pm Wednesday, February 12. Only those applicants chosen for interviews will be contacted. We anticipate scheduling interviews for the week of March 2. Some positions may be funded by Summer Jobs Canada. Additional eligibility requirements may apply.

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Snow School for Marmots

Meet Pixy. She’s a 2-year-old adolescent Vancouver Island marmot, one of only about 200 of this endangered species in the world. Pixy was born at the Toronto Zoo, as part of a captive breeding program aimed at recovering this uniquely Canadian species. This summer, Pixy was released to the wild, but only after a year of ‘school.’ It’s a strategy conservationists working to protect the marmots believe is helping the species make a comeback in some of the Island’s harshest environments, like the sub-alpine of Strathcona Provincial Park.

A young marmot watches Foundation Field Crew in Strathcona Provincial Park. Photo by Ryan Tidman.

Strathcona Park is the largest protected area on Vancouver Island. Two and half thousand square kilometers of lakes, mountain peaks, glaciers, and forest, it is home to some of the most incredible scenery and wildlife in the world; including about fifty of the rare Vancouver Island marmot.

Strathcona Park emerges from the fog. Photo by Ryan Tidman

But that wasn’t the case just a few year ago. The marmot had been completely lost in the Park, part of a decline of the entire species that left fewer than 30 in the wild in 2003. As recovery efforts ramped up, the first priority was marmot habitat further south, but Strathcona was always part of the plan.

“We wanted to start where the last remaining marmots had survived, on Mount Washington and handful of mountains further south, but we knew we’d be bringing marmots back to Strathcona at some point,” recalls Cheyney Jackson, the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s Field Coordinator. “I remember when the first releases to Strathcona happened in 2007, I was pretty excited to see marmots go back into the Park.”

Unfortunately, those first released marmots struggled to survive. “The Park seems like a perfect habitat, but in hindsight it’s clear there were going to be challenges here that we hadn’t faced before.” The winters in Strathcona come earlier and end later, leaving the marmots with less time to prepare for a long hibernation. Plus there was no marmot “infrastructure” left.  “Marmots use the same burrows and hibernacula for many, many years,” Cheyney explains, “but all those homes and hideouts disappeared with the marmots.”

Perhaps most importantly, there weren’t any resident marmots to show these newcomers the ropes. Marmots are social animals, and their colony structure helps new marmots learn how to avoid predators, and teaches them the best places to sleep and when to start and end hibernation. With that realization, a plan was hatched. What if marmots could be taught how to survive before they went into Park?

That’s why Pixy is being released for the second time. Last year, when she she was released for the first time, she was let go at Mount Washington. “Mount Washington is a gentle colony for the marmots. The people keep away most of the predators, and the hills are lush with vegetation,” Cheyney says. It’s like marmot grade school – they get to learn about life in the wild, but some of the hard edges are removed.  Then, earlier this year, Pixy was caught again, and transported to Castlecrag. Her year at Mount Washington greatly improves her chances of surviving in this more remote and rugged mountain.

“The research suggests she’s about 5 times more likely to survive and produce pups of her own with this year of learning under her belt,” says Cheyney. It’s a big difference, and it has allowed marmots to begin the process of recolonizing their old meadows in the Park. “We’re seeing second and third generation marmots now, it’s thrilling.” These survivors are busy revitalizing the burrows, hibernacula, and meadows used by their great-great-grandparents, and will be ready to welcome new friends that arrive in the future.

It’s amazing what a bit of education can do.

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