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Updates from the Team

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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Marmot Love is in the Burrow

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! The marmots are sleeping right now, but marmot love is still in air! Here are a few of the things we’ve observed as we watched the marmots from afar.

That “Marmot Kiss”. We regularly observe marmots touching noses. It is almost always pups with a parent or between a pair of bonded adults. We call this pair bonding – an activity that strengthens the relationship between a pair of marmots. It is just as sweet to see in the wild as you expect.

Marmots who Sleep Together Stay Together. Marmots who hibernate in the same burrow often become a pair (hopefully with pups). We’ve observed a number of occasions when seen two marmots who couldn’t stand each other in the fall, but hibernate in the same burrow, have a change of heart when they wake up. Sometimes they even go on to raise pups together. (It must be noted that this is always what happens. Some marmots are just not compatible, no matter what!)

A marmot is never too old for love. This winter, two of our favorite marmots are hibernating together, and our fingers are crossed for pups in the spring. One the of the remarkable things about this pair is that the female is Muffin. She is 12 years old – one of the oldest wild marmots ever!

Sometimes you to have go looking for love. That marmot hibernating with Muffin? That’s Alan the Bamfield Marmot! Alan is quite the traveler, having found his way first to coast. Then after we relocated him to Haley Bowl, he had explore alllllllll the nearby colonies before coming full circle last spring and falling in with Muffin at Haley. Will he settle down? We think so, as he and Muffin have spent a lot of time together this past summer.

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