Author Archives: Adam Taylor

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends! While we celebrated a little earlier here in Canada, it’s always worth taking the opportunity to express our thanks to the people who are making it possible to save the marmots. This species is here today thanks to you.

Our work to save the Vancouver Island Marmot has only been possible thanks to the gifts of donors and the support of partners. Our partners include the Calgary and Toronto Zoos, whose expertise, facilities, and research support have been critical. Landowners TimberWest, Island Timberlands, and Mount Washington Alpine Resort have provided funding, donated land, and created new parks to protect the marmot’s habitat. The Province of BC has provided operating support, office space, and field equipment like trucks to make our work possible.

And our donors’ gifts have provided the financial support to pay the bills, and hire the exceptional, dedicated crew we need to get these marmots back into their wild habitat.

Together, you are showing that Canadians and the World care about our most vulnerable species and that, with work and time, we can save them.

With all our heart, thank you.

October’s Marmot of the Month: Buffy

“When Witches go riding and black cats are seen, the Moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween” – Author unknown.

Needing comfort from the restless dead haunting your dreams? Does your heart need lightening during the dark of All Hallows’ Eve? Then relief we bring, because Buffy is here!

Buffy may not appear to fit the standard mould of monster slayer, being somewhat smaller and furrier than her more famous TV namesake. Can this small and unassuming marmot be a secret monster masher?

Consider this: Buffy lives in the wild Mount Washington colony, where, coincidentally, there are the fewest predators of all our marmot colonies. Is it because of Buffy? Do cougars and wolves dare not tread these hills due to her furry presence? Perhaps … or perhaps there are other factor at play. All we can say for sure is that we rest easier on the mountain knowing Buffy hibernates somewhere nearby. 

At 7 years old, we hope Buffy has a few more years of keeping the forces of evil at bay before she passes the mantle on, perhaps to one of the pups she has nurtured along the way.

Photo by Jordan Cormack. Wooden stake added for … illustrative …. purposes only. 

Canada Post Strike Update: We will get your donations!

We want to assure you that your mail will reach us, despite the current limited job action at Canada Post. As you may have heard, Canada Post has begun rotating strikes, including here on Vancouver Island. The job action may impact how long it takes your mail to reach us, and vice versa, but mail will still be delivered.

Alternatively, you can give to us online at https://marmots.org/how-you-can-help/donate-now/, or phone us at 250 390-0006 – we do love to chat with you about your marmots!

Your gifts are reason we are able to continue the marmots’ recovery. Thank you all so much for supporting this special animal and our work to save it. 

Collaboration to map marmot genetics

More research! The Marmot Recovery Foundation is collaborating with Dr Jamie Gorrell of Vancouver Island University to map the genetics of as much of the captive and wild population as we can get samples from. When complete, this research will help us make more informed choices about which marmots to pair in the captive breeding program and where to release marmots. 

When our recovery effort began, the marmot population was frightening small. At its lowest point, fewer than 30 remained in the wild. With that severe population bottleneck in mind, the captive breeding program’s first priority has been to conserve genetic diversity and minimize inbreeding. But to do that, we have had to make assumptions. For instance, we assume that marmots from distant colonies are not closely related. In the wild, we assume that the male marmot that hibernates with the mother and engages in parenting duties is the father of the pups.

Dr Gorrell’s work will enable us to have a much closer look at the genetics of the marmots, and test whether our assumptions have always been right. If there are areas of concern, for instance a colony where all the marmots are more closely related than we believed (we’re looking you Alan, we know you get around, but just how much getting around have you been up to?), we can take corrective action. For instance, we could release marmots to the site, or even translocate marmots, to give a fresh infusion of needed genes.

We are really excited about Dr Gorrell’s work, and his results will help us better understand the marmots needs.

New marmot paper: Optimizing release strategies: a stepping‐stone approach to reintroduction

The transition from life in a Zoo-setting to life in the wild is dramatic for our Vancouver Island Marmots. Despite the efforts that the Calgary Zoo,  Toronto Zoo and ourselves make to ensure marmot enclosures resemble the wild, with free access to outdoor spaces, artificial burrows, and rocks and logs to climb and carry, there is no way to truly recreate the boundless spaces, cliffs, and meadows of the marmots’ natural habitat. So it’s amazing to see how quickly the marmots adapt to their home. Often we will see them eating wild vegetation within an hour of release (sometimes it is just minutes before they start sampling the local delicacies).

However, we also know that other elements of the transition are harder. Captive bred marmots tend to go exploring more often than their wild born counterparts, which too often puts them in harm’s way. They have a harder time with their first hibernation too, especially in Strathcona Park where conditions can be harsh. The good news is that if these marmots can make it for a couple years, their survival from then on is just as good as their wild-born relatives.

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On this Earth Day, you are likely to be reminded that wildlife globally is suffering. However, with work and dedication, it is possible to make a positive difference for even the most endangered species. If you follow us here, you are likely aware of the Vancouver Island marmot's story - from fewer than 30 wild marmots in 2003, to about 200 today.

Thank you to our donors and partners who are making the marmot's recovery possible. The marmots would not be here without you!

Enjoy this video, taken by the amazing Alena Ebeling-Schuld, of young Vancouver Island Marmots cautiously exploring the world outside their burrow.
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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.

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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