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Updates from the Team

Marmots released to Haley Lake Ecological Reserve

On July 9th, we released 4 Vancouver Island marmots to Haley Lake Ecological Reserve. Due to the uncertain weather, we hiked the four into the Ecological Reserve. Nootka, Eleanor, Stark, and Hancock are now enjoying their new home! 

At the trailhead, we prep the marmots for their backpack ride to the Ecological Reserve.

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Marmots Released at Mount Washington

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.

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First pups born at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre

Last year, we asked you for additional support so that we could start breeding marmots again at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre. Thanks to everyone’s gifts, we made the decision re-open breeding at the Facility in the fall.  

Today, we have wonderful news – the first pups born at the Centre! Sally and Pepsi are proud parents of 3 healthy and active pups. Vancouver Island marmots are slow breeders, and this is a full year ahead of when we expected to see our first pups. It is a wonderful surprise!

These pups will be released to the wild next year. They, and the future pups born at the Centre, will help us speed up the recovery the marmots’ wild population tremendously.

We owe a huge thank you to our donors and partners who have made this moment possible. We can’t thank you enough.

This is one of the pups peeking out from the rock structures in their outdoor pen.

 

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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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