June 24th, Nanaimo, B.C. – This summer, 18 captive-bred marmots will be joining the wild population of the critically endangered Vancouver Island marmot. The first two were released on Monday at Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

“These two marmots were born at the Toronto Zoo last year,” says Adam Taylor, Executive Director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. “Ezekiel and Ernest will live here for one year, then next year we will move them to a more remote colony in Strathcona Provincial Park. This stepping-stone approach to releasing marmots has been shown to help the marmots survive to adulthood.” Over the next three weeks, the Foundation will release the remaining captive bred, and translocate marmots from Mount Washington to Strathcona.

As for the marmots already living in the wild, they have now emerged from hibernation, and early indications are that overwinter survival was high. Mike Lester, Acting Field Coordinator explains. “So far, we’ve been pleased with overwinter survival at the sites we’ve been able to get to. It’s encouraging to see yearlings at this number of sites – that’s always a good sign. There are a number of sites that we haven’t been able to visit yet. I’m not willing to give you a hard number, but what we’ve seen so far is positive.”

The Vancouver Island Marmot population has been recovering since the species nearly went extinct in the early 2000s. From 2003, when fewer than 30 wild marmots remained, the population has grown to approximately 200 in the wild today.

The marmot released on Monday were born in captive breeding programs at the Toronto and Calgary Zoos. “Both Zoos play a vital role in the recovery effort,” says Taylor. “In addition to captive breeding programs, the scientists at the Zoos lead important research on marmot nutrition, stress levels, and re-introduction success that have greatly improved the program.”

The marmots released this summer will help the population continue its recovery. “It’s been a slow process, and there have been frustrating setbacks,” says Taylor.  “At the same time, it’s inspiring to see these marmots emerge each spring. They’ve overcome a lot of adversity.”

On the ground work for recovery of the Vancouver Island Marmot is funded by the Province of B.C., TimberWest, Island Timberlands, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, and donors across Canada. Captive breeding partners include the Calgary Zoo and Toronto Zoo.

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photo: Micheal Boudreau (left) holds the trap steady, while Dr. Malcolm McAdie (top centre) and Mike Lester (bottom right) encourage the marmot into its new home.

photo: Ezekiel and Ernest tentatively explore their new surroundings.

photo: One of the pair of newly released marmots emerges from the nest box.