Vancouver Island Marmots were once near extinction, but thanks to a captive breeding program that number is now near 300.
It is a delicate move the marmots are not crazy about and their shrill screams or chirps are a sign of that.
But soon they are packed into cages in the back of a truck and bounding up a road to their new home, a burrow on Mount Washington.
“It’s very gratifying to see them finally put back out into the wild where they can be marmots again and hopefully persist and have pups and help contribute to their species recovery,” said Sean Pendergast, Chair of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team.
Only five were released on Mount Washington Monday but over the course of a year dozens can be released to different parts of the island.
To reduce their stress the marmots are released directly from a cage into their new burrow with a box cover on it.
“It was probably a concern when marmots were first starting to hang out on the ski runs because that’s a lot of disturbance but what we’ve seen is that the marmots actually tend to do really well on Mount Washington. We think because there’s so many people around that maybe that helps keep predators out of the area and maybe that’s one of their secrets to their success,” said Cheyney Jackson, the Marmot Recovery Foundation’s Field Coordinator.
Within a few minutes all five marmots are in the burrow, the door is re-opened and they are peeking outside checking out the new surroundings.
Their survival is key to a program that can cost over a million dollars a year funded by the province, forest companies and private donors.
Their numbers declined rapidly in the 1990’s and there were just 30 left in 2003. Now there are between 200 and 300 marmots on the island after a 20 year captive breeding program.
“It’s incredible, it really is and it’s incredible to think how far the recovery program has come. Still a long long way from what we want to see but it is still an incredible recovery to date from a species that was at the absolute brink of extinction,” said Adam Taylor, Executive Director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation.
The Vancouver Island marmot remains one of the worlds most endangered mammals.
They are a uniquely Canadian animal and their range is only Vancouver Island.
Experts say the program will continues until there are upwards of 900 marmots living on the island.