Right now in the mountains of Strathcona Park, two adolescent marmots are bundled underground in a burrow stuffed with grasses and shrubs. Their bodies are cold, their breathing impossibly slow: the deep sleep of hibernation has overtaken Clayton and Aberfeldy. Until next spring, they will barely move, their bodies surviving on the stored energy of a summer spent eating and packing on weight. When they emerge next spring, these marmots will shoulder the burden of conservationists hopes, to produce the next generation of marmots.
Clayton and Aberfeldy were the first marmots to head into hibernation this year, but they were followed by others, including a bumper crop of pups. The Foundation’s field crew counted at least 42 pups this summer, and we suspect there are more, in mountains of Vancouver Island. After a difficult year in 2016, it is exactly what the Foundation’s Field Coordinator Cheyney Jackson hoped to see. “It was a huge relief,” says Cheyney. “Pups are the future of the species, but for me, seeing that the marmots are reproducing successfully in the wild, even after a really difficult year, shows that they do have the resiliency to bounce back.”
If you’re reading this, know that you played a role in creating this bounty of young marmots. In addition to supporting other recovery efforts, your support made it possible for us to put out 12 feeders this year – specifically to help boost the number of pups born. Like any good biologist, Cheyney is hesitant about crediting the feeders too much. “We are still in the process of collecting the data we need to show what difference the feeders make, but it does seem like marmots that have access to them produce pups more often.”
While Clayton, Aberfeldy, and their relations hibernate, we will busy preparing for next year. We are very happy to again have marmots at the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre, plus we have more marmots to release, more feeders to place, more sites to restore as we take another step towards the marmot’s recovery.
REMEMBERING JIM WALKER
In June, our Board Chair Jim Walker passed away unexpectedly. For over 20 years, Jim volunteered countless hours to helping the marmots. He was a tireless voice for the marmots: through letters, phone calls, and meetings, Jim sought to bring anyone who could make a difference to the table. His efforts and energy have helped keep the marmots from extinction.
Jim had a passion for nature, wildlife, and service, and he took action through his volunteerism and donations with the Marmot Recovery Foundation and other conservation organizations in Canada and internationally.
We will miss Jim’s advice and support tremendously, but are proud to continue his conservation legacy.
Thank you Jim for all that you have given the marmots and us.
Strathcona Provincial Park is stunning: a landscape of snowcapped mountains, ice-blue glacial lakes, and waterfalls cascading over granite cliffs. Nestled among these giants are eight small marmot colonies. Nothing gives away that these particular meadows, among many in the Park, happen to be home to one of the rarest mammals in the world, recently reintroduced into the Park after more than 20 years of absence.
Despite the ruggedness of this wilderness area, marmots still need to move between colonies sometimes. At two years old, many marmots strike out from their natal colony in search of a mate at a new site. This movement is important: it ensures that marmots mix genes and prevents inbreeding. Along the way, some marmots do get lost, and one of our jobs is find and return these marmots to suitable habitat. More incredible is that many marmots somehow find their way.
Take Macallan. Born at Mt Washington, when he turned one year old in 2015 we moved him 12km to Mt Albert Edward in Strathcona Park. We hoped he would contribute to the young colony there, but Macallan had other ideas. Over the next year, he traversed the mountains, cliffs, lakes, and forests back to his home at Mt Washington. His presence at Mt Washington is welcome: the colony needed another male about his age.
Macallan’s journey was not part of our plan, but it is one we are happy to witness. Ensuring that marmots can travel between colonies is one of our goals – even if some of them chose to move back home.