On Friday, July 13th we released 10 marmots to 5 mountains in the Nanaimo Lakes area. Despite superstitious date, the releases went well, and thanks you some help form our friends, these marmots have successfully begun the first step of their transition to the wild.  Below are photos and stories from Green Mountain, the first to receive its marmots on this morning.

Green Mountain Wildlife Management Area is set aside specifically for Vancouver Island Marmots, and has been home to a small colony of marmots for over decade. Last year, a predator caught most of the colony, leaving only a single male marmot, Parker, on the mountain. To prevent the colony from becoming extinct, we had prioritized it for releases this year.

To support the work and keep costs down, the field team is divided into groups. Field Coordinator Mike Lester and veterinarian Malcolm McAdie ride in the helicopter with all the marmots. The rest of the Field Team hike up release mountains in the morning to meet the helicopter. This keeps costs down, as the helicopter is most expensive part of this day.

At Green Mountain, veteran team member Norberto Pancera leads the group. The “Green Team” also includes MRF’s Executive Director Adam Taylor, and two employees of the Calgary Zoo, Kelly and Llewellyn. Kelly and Llewellyn’s help mean we’re able to get to more mountains today. Our goal: to get all the marmots released before the day gets too hot. Other field teams on other mountains today include Megan and Jordan at Mt Washington and Michael and Clemens at Haley Bowl.

The “Green” team left Nanaimo at 5:30 am, to allow enough time to hike up the mountain and meet helicopter at 8:00 am. Read through the photos to find out how the rest the release went, and meet Denman and Bligh, the newest residents of Green Mountain

After the steep hike in, the first order of business is tracking down Parker. We don’t want to release the marmots right on top of him! At the same time, the team is scouting for a good burrow to release Bligh and Denman too. A great burrow is located within a short hike of the helicopter landing spot.

The terrain at Green Mountain is rocky, steep, and covered in lush layer of ferns, grasses, and wildflowers – perfect for marmots. Malcolm and Mike are a little later than planned. That’s alright, the hike in took us a little longer than planned too!

The foundations of an old ski hut make the perfect landing spot. Norberto waits nearby to receive the marmots. The Helicopter only touches down for moments. Mike and Malcolm unload Bligh and Denman. The hand off takes less than 5 minutes, and then the helicopter is off again.

Now its up to the field team. Fortunately, we don’t have far to go today. Kelly carries Bligh to the burrow selected earlier. The marmots are stressed. Everything is new to them – the helicopter, the people, and the open mountain. We’ll try to keep them in the burrow for a few minutes to show them its a safe spot.

While Bligh stays inside the burrow, Denman bolts. He manages to leap past all of us. Fortunately, he does not go far. 
Plan B: Denman has picked a spot about 50 meters downhill. Perhaps a peanut butter trail will lead him back to the burrow?
Meanwhile, Bligh starts to explore! She’s been eating the peanut butter and leaf biscuits already, and seems to be adjusting rapidly to life in the wild.

Denman is still stressed. The crew back off to give him time and space. Before leaving, we confirm that he has made his way back to the rock just above the burrow. Still, we need to come back soon to make sure he is adapting to his world.

All in all, a success. Together, Parker, Bligh, and Denman will hopefully keep the colony at Green Mountain alive.