52 endangered Vancouver Island marmots being released this summer

52 endangered Vancouver Island marmots being released this summer

Fifty-two marmots have spent the first year of their lives at the Marmot Recovery Foundation facility on Mount Washington.

They’ll all be released to survive on their own this summer, including four released Wednesday.

“It’s really exciting for us to get them out into the wild and part of this recovering population of this really incredibly rare and special species,” said Adam Taylor, the foundation’s executive director.

The marmots were transferred from the breeding facility in cages and taken higher up the mountain, where four lucky volunteers carried the cages on their backs to their final destination.

“Well, you feel like you’re part of history when you get to help reintroduce a marmot that’s been raised by so many people,” said Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, who carried one of the marmots.

The marmots are then transferred from their cages into a box that covered a burrow on a ski run, where a camera inside captured their next movements as they sniffed freedom for the first time.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island marmot featured on U.S. postage stamps

The Marmot Recovery Foundation first released marmots 20 years ago when there were just 22 found in the wild.

Since then, 576 Vancouver Island marmots have been released, and the wild population has climbed to approximately 200.

Recovery involves captive breeding and reintroductions, translocations, habitat restoration, supplemental feeding, and extensive monitoring.

“They were one of the most endangered mammal species on the planet, but it has come an incredible distance from where we began, and this is one of the few species we can really document that without these conservation efforts, this species would be extinct today,” Taylor said.

And then, finally, the moment everyone was waiting for. The first brave and curious marmot took a step outside, freedom for the first time.

Unfortunately, the overall recovery of the species is taking so long because just one in 5 of those released survive long-term.

“It is a strangely gratifying and stressful experience,” added Taylor. “These marmots have experienced anything that isn’t a pen, you know they have inside and outside enclosure, but they’ve got to learn to hibernate on their own, they’ve got to learn how to eat on their own, they’ve got to learn how to evade predators on their own.”

But the work is far from over. It could take another 20 years before the population can sustain itself.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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