We are very honored that research into how to maximize the success of released marmots has been selected as a Feature Paper by the Journal “Animal Conservation.” If you want a deeper look into the science side of our work, this paper and the accompanying expert commentaries are great way to explore some of the challenges and successes of reintroducing a critically endangered species back into the wild. You can read it all here: https://zslpublications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14691795/2019/22/2
One of our central challenges is giving the marmots we release the best chance of survival possible. Unfortunately, there is no road map for this; no “tried and true” methodology for re-establishing a wild population that has been lost. As we experienced re-introduction successes and disappointments, it became clear that some colonies are much more ‘captive-born marmot friendly’ than others. Chief among these ‘friendly’ colonies is Mount Washington.
We thought it might be possible to use Mount Washington as a ‘stepping stone’ for captive-bred marmots. Would a year in the wild Mount Washington colony help naïve captive-bred marmots learn how to survive at the harsher, less forgiving colonies. To answer this question, we needed help. We’re good at the grunt work – releasing marmots, tracking them, capturing them, and moving them. But we needed help, a lot of help, to model population and survival dynamics over multiple cohorts of marmots with differing levels of wild experience. Fortunately, the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research and the US Geological Service were willing to contribute a significant amount of brain power to make sense of the data we collected.
The result? We now know that the stepping stone model dramatically improves the survival rate of released captive-bred marmots. The earliest analyses came in a couple years ago, and at that point we adopted the stepping stone model for all marmots being released to Strathcona Provincial Park.
Many thanks to our partners at the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research, and the U.S. Geological Service for their invaluable work. This would not have been possible without the people and funders who make our work possible. This work in particular was funded by the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, the Province of B.C., and donors like you.
We hope that in addition to guiding our efforts, this research will help other re-introduction programs make sound decisions about how to best assist small and fragile populations of some of world’s most endangered species.