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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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Today, we released two marmots to the colony at Mount Washington. Ernest and Ezekiel were born at the Toronto Zoo, and today got their first taste of the wild.

They only have one year at Mount Washington however. Next year, we will move them to a more remote colony in Strathcona Park, where they will carry on the re-establishment of marmots in their historic range.
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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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Right now, staff at the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Centre, the Toronto Zoo, and Calgary Zoo are listening for the sounds of pups. The pups stay in the burrow for a month or more, so right now listening is the only way for us to know who may have babies. We’re confident we’ve heard at a few pup noises, but only time will tell how many. In the wild, we won’t know anything until July, when the pups finally starting exploring the world outside their burrow. Until then, here’s some footage from last year to remind you what we’re waiting to see! ... See MoreSee Less

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