It is a special time of year in the marmot colonies, as young marmot pups start to emerge from their burrows to explore the sub-alpine meadows. From a nearby rock, Mom and Dad watch the energetic pups wrestle, tumble, push, shove, and, occasionally, get a parental check-in nose boop.
By the time we see them, the pups are already a month old. For the first month, they stayed underground with mom, growing on her milk until they are ready to venture into meadows. As they get older, the pups start to venture out of the burrow. At first, they stay close to home, and often we will see a bundle of noses just at the burrow entrance, but no further. Soon though, the pups start to explore the meadow and learn the social ropes of a marmot colony. Adults are very tolerant of the young marmots’ pushes and shoves, and the experience will help the youth when they grow up.
As the young pups play, it is rare not see Mom or Dad somewhere nearby. Often, the parents will look deceptively sleepy, but in reality they have almost always picked a careful perch; somewhere that gives them a good view of the meadow and ample time to alert the young pups with a whistle or keaw to potential danger.
It is still pretty thrilling for us to hear a “keaw” or spot the young marmots. As we’ve reintroduced Vancouver Island marmot to the meadows they once lived in, the sights and sounds of young marmots have spread to more mountains. In 2004, there were just 4 colonies left. Today, there are 24 mountains with marmot colonies. Not all of those are large enough to support breeding yet, but many are showing promise!
This year, our first pups were a real surprise. In June, we discovered two adults we hadn’t seen before at an established colony in the Nanaimo Lakes. When we examined them more closely, we discovered the female (now named “Marmalade”) was lactating! A sure sign she had pups nearby underground. Sure enough, a couple weeks later and Marmalade and “Piccolo” are the proud parents of 2! So far this year, we’ve seen pups at 5 mountains, and we’re pretty sure there are more waiting to be seen.