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Updates from the Team

Calling all yearlings

Vancouver Island marmots can live for more than ten years, but they grow relatively slowly. This means that it can be fairly easy to recognize marmot pups and yearlings when you see them, because they are noticeably smaller than their older colony members. Their fur is also much more uniform in colour than the patchwork coat worn by adults! Most yearlings are a beautiful, warm cinnamon colour, like the yearling in this post’s photo. Field crew have been visiting marmot colonies and counting yearlings to determine how many of last year’s pups survived to celebrate their first birthday. And the good news? The yearlings that have been observed in the field have been in excellent physical condition, thanks to an early spring, rapid snow melt, and abundant vegetation.

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Vancouver Island marmots on CTV

On a sunny day last week, CTV News pulled on their hiking boots and came out in the field with us for a day of counting marmots. We asked the marmots to put on a special show for them, and wow, did they ever come through! We saw marmots basking in the sun, marmots foraging on vegetation, and marmots ripping up sedges and carrying them back to their burrow for bedding. Not bad for a day trip! The Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Project is working hard to recover this species to a healthy population size and distribution. And although we still have lots to do to protect the species for the long haul, we are so excited about all that we have achieved so far! Have you watched the CTV story?

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Vancouver Island marmots are on the move

Last week we received this season’s first report of a dispersing marmot. Two forestry workers photographed a marmot on a gravel road in the Nanaimo Lakes region. “Dispersal” is a natural process that happens when a marmot leaves the colony that they were born at, and travels through the landscape to join another colony and start a family. For Vancouver Island marmots, this usually happens at or after age two, when marmots are fully grown and independent but have not yet bred at a site.

From the photos, we could tell that this marmot was known to us because it had two shiny, metal ear tags with numbers on them. We couldn’t quite read the numbers from the photos, but that gave us a great start at figuring out who it might be. We knew that if the marmot had ear tags, it likely also had a working radiotelemetry transmitter. Transmitters send out pulses, and by using a special antenna and receiver and walking in the direction with the loudest pulse, we can track a marmot to a specific location – kind of like a game of “hot or cold”, but with beeps!

We solved the mystery when we confirmed that it was a 2yo wild-born male named Precip. By the time we found him, he had finished his journey and was hiding in a nice, meadowy slide on another marmot mountain. He had traveled 10km from his natal (birth) colony to where he was photographed, and another 5km after that! We wish him all the best at his new colony.

Vancouver Island is a BIG place, so we appreciate your help monitoring this rare and fascinating species. If you see a marmot near a town or road, or if you find a deceased marmot, please let us know!

(Photo credit: J. Araki)

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Vancouver Island marmots on ShawTV

It may have been snowing sideways, but ShawTV’s Kelly Robinson and Derek Johnstone were all smiles as they trekked along with us on our first field day in early May. It was an exciting day for everyone – we saw happy marmots, checked burrows, and confirmed overwinter survival for several individuals. We also had a surprise when we discovered that a notorious wandering female who had left the hill last summer had returned to hibernate with a friend. To watch our field crew in action and see some of Mount Washington’s resident marmots, follow the link to Vancouver Island Marmots – ShawTV Nanaimo.

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Remember Snow?

Each spring, field crew visit Vancouver Island marmot colonies to determine which marmots survived the winter. As part of this task, they also scour the mountain tops to locate the special burrows that marmots hibernate in (called a “hibernaculum”). Usually, this is a fairly easy task. You see, marmots hibernate underground, and so their feet, nose and tummy get covered in soil. In spring, when marmots leave their hibernacula and dig up through several feet of snow to the surface, marmots create a dirty-looking tunnel in the snow that we call an “emergence hole”.

But there’s something missing this spring that we usually see in other years, particularly in the Nanaimo Lakes region. We’ll give you a hint it’s fluffy, white, and a great insulator for hibernating marmots…that’s right, we’re talking about snow! This past winter, there was very little snow at the Nanaimo Lakes marmot colonies. This means that these marmots didn’t even have to dig emergence holes this spring – they just stepped out of their burrows! So in order to show you what an emergence hole looks like, we took a photo at one of the fledgling colonies in Strathcona Provincial Park, where marmots woke up this spring with at least a little bit of snow to dig through.

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November’s Marmot of the Month is Lucky Lucy, who truly has lived up to her name. Lucky was born in the wild at Gemini Mountain in 2016. For the past 2 years, she seemed to be doing great, and all indications were that soon there would be another breeding age female wild marmot.

Then, this year, Lucky’s story seemed to take a dark turn. Crew couldn’t see Lucky on their visit to Gemini, but her telemetry signal was weak and reading “slow”. At the time, we interpreted the signal to mean that she had died, though we noted that the signal was unusual. After that, nothing. We couldn’t find her signal at all.

That all changed in late August though, when on a trip to another colony nearby, the crew aimed the telemetry antenna across the valley, just to see if another angle would pick up Lucky’s signal. Against all odds, not only was her signal strong, but it was clearly “fast” – indicating she was alive and well! Since then, she’s been detected alive and well a couple more times, right where we left her on the top of Gemini Mountain.

Why did Lucky’s signal throw us for a loop? We will never know for sure, but rock walls can play havoc with telemetry signals bouncing them in odd ways. It is possible that Lucky ventured down off Gemini for a while, or perhaps she had dug a burrow under a particularly large rock.

Regardless, we feel fortunate to have her back!
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2 weeks ago

Marmot Recovery Foundation

This is the BEST CHRISTMAS SWEATER EVER!!!! We thought Christmas sweaters were supposed to bad though? ... See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Marmot Recovery Foundation

#HappyThanksgiving 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 Zoo and The Toronto Zoo, whose expertise, facilities, and research support have been critical. Landowners TimberWest Forest Corp., #IslandTimberlands, 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.

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.
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