The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo are excited to have six successful litters of Vancouver Island Marmots born this year, totaling 17 new pups.
This is the first year the team welcomed the new pups within the new Archibald Biodiversity Centre, located southeast of Strathmore, which opened in June 2022.
According to Michelle Benzen, an animal care specialist with the Wilder Institute, the 2023 breeding season has been one of the team’s most successful for their marmots.
“We have had years in the low 20’s so not our biggest producing year, but it is certainly a very successful one,” said Benzen. “The size of the litters and how many litters we get can range from year to year, and that can just be based on different factors, including how many pairs we have at the facility and how long-term those pairs are.”
The breeding program at the Archibald Biodiversity Centre is a very hands-off endeavor. The marmots are largely left to their own devices to breed in order to encourage natural behaviours and activity.
This is to, as much as possible, preserve the ability to later release the animals back into the wild on Vancouver Island.
“We provide them nest boxes and materials so they can create a space that they can hibernate in comfortably, and we monitor them over this period of time, and then we are very hands-off,” said Benzen. “Breeding happens as the marmots are coming out of hibernation within their nest boxes, so we do not really do any observing of that we kind of back off until we hear pups.”
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The marmots are largely also left to raise the pups on their own, and once they are big enough, they will emerge with their parents from the nest boxes.
Benzen explained a decline in Vancouver Island Marmot populations began to be noticed in the 1980s and 90s. The population was reduced in the wild to what was estimated to be only 30 surviving individuals.
“The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo has been a part of the marmot recovery program since 1998. What was involved in those early years was bringing in some wild born marmots into captivity and that was to safeguard genetics,” said Benzen. “The Calgary Zoo has produced over 200 marmots since 2003 in captivity. Some of those marmots are retained in the program based on genetics to ensure that we have a great variation within our captive population.”
Anyone who is interested in potentially learning more about the Wilder Institute and how to support them can do so via their website.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times