Late last year, we learned of a family of Vancouver Island marmots that established themselves near Knight Lake. We knew from past experience that they would not survive long low elevation, unsuitable habitat and sought to capture and relocate them. We were able to catch two pups and the father, but the mother and another pup eluded us. With winter coming, we struggled to decide how to give these marmots, especially the breeding age female, the best survival chance possible. In the end we made the decision to release the father back to the cutblock with a transmitter that would enable us to track him and his family again in the spring. This meant that we could follow up as early as possible in the spring to get them out.
This year, by tracking the transmitter, our crew was able to find the marmots in the spring snow. Our veterinarian, Malcolm McAdie, with crew members Norberto and Steve, snowshoed in and captured the mother. We’ll return once a bit more snow has melted to capture the father and other pup. Malcolm, Norberto, and Steve hiked the mother out – not an easy task with a marmot on your back! She will be released to a marmot colony later this summer, hopefully with her yearling and the father.
By the way, the mother is the first marmot to be named this year. First on our name-a-marmot winners list was Vanna. Given where she was recovered from, we have dubbed her Vanna Knight!
Happy Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you. Last year, the Calgary Zoo named the young marmots to be released after Stars Wars characters, and boy have some of them been on adventures worthy of their names!
In the oops department: Han Solo… well, lets just say mistakes were made, and Han Solo has been redubbed Hanna Solo! She’s still in hibernation on Mt Washington, but marmots are just starting to get more active.
“Luke, I am your… brother?” Of course, these marmots are all the same generation, so Anakin is actually Luke’s brother, not father! Speaking of Luke….
As Yoda said “Luke, you must not go”, but did Luke listen? No, of course not, and neither did our Luke. After being released in Strathcona Park, we lost track of him. Fortunately, Luke was spotted in November, but to our surprise, he was well outside the Park, far from home or safety. We were able to rescue him, but given how late in the season it was, he could not be released back to the wild. Instead, he spent the winter hibernating in the marmot facility on Mt Washington, and will be released to the wild again this summer.
Next time, can we name the marmots something less adventurous?
Han, oops, Hanna Solo on release day in 2016 at Mt Washington
We would to extend a special thank you to young people who are helping recover the Vancouver Island Marmot. Your stories and efforts are inspiring! Today we’d like share such two stories that we received.
The first comes from Cohen, age 8, who was doing a project on Hedgehogs at his Comox Valley school that included a fundraising component. Cohen wanted his fundraising efforts to have a local impact, so he decided to raise funds for the Vancouver Island Marmots. What a great example of thinking global and acting local! Thank you Cohen.
Sometimes though, it works the other way around! Despite being on vacation England, our Field Coordinator Cheyney couldn’t help but talk about marmots. After returning home, Cheyney was delighted to get the letter below from Holly-Kathleen, who was clearly moved by Cheyney’s work to recover the marmots! Thank you to both Cohen and Holly-Kathleen, and to everyone, young and old, who supports our work. It is because of your gifts that we are able to make the recovery of this unique species possible!
Like like us, marmot siblings fight constantly! This type of play teaches the marmots fine motor skills, and likely social behaviours too, such as how to ask for space. These pups were recorded by one of our Field Crew, Joey Chrisholm, in 2016 at Mt Washington. The pups won’t get names until they turn at least one year old, but their mother is Abby, a wild born marmot who has been a great breeder. We need more like her to help the species recover!
Happy Groundhog Day! According to the CBC, the “western” Groundhogs are saying “more winter.” But we here at the Marmot Recovery Foundation have consulted closely with our “groundhogs”, which are certainly the most western in Canada, and we beg to differ.
For the record, Groundhogs are Marmots. Usually the term “Groundhog” is applied to Monax monax, a widespread species of marmot in North America, and a relative of our Vancouver Island Marmot (Monax vancouverensis). But both species of marmot have a variety of names, including “woodchucks” and “whistle pigs.”
With the educational bit out of the way, just what did the most western marmot of all have to say?
Mostly “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” we’re afraid. Vancouver Island Marmots are still very much in hibernation this time of year. It will likely be another two months before they begin emerge from their burrows. Until then, they will only wake up briefly once every two weeks to have a quick bathroom break. Even then, they will not leave their burrow, and there is no light in the burrow, and therefore no shadows.
Of course, we need a prediction from our furry weather prognosticators! The only trouble is in interpreting the data. We are choosing “early spring”. After all, the marmots did not see their shadows, because there is no way they could! Plus, early spring sounds like more fun.
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.
#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.