As she packed an endangered Vancouver Island marmot on her back to the alpine of Mount Washington Monday, MP Sheila Malcolmson was in awe of what she was getting chance to do.

“Feels cool,” said the MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith. “I feel it moving around.”

Three captive-bred Vancouver Island marmots were released on the picturesque mountainside Monday.

Over the next several weeks, a total of 19 will be released into the wild.

“It’s a relief to get them out but then there’s sort of that worry,” said chief¬†veterinarian for the Marmot Recovery Foundation, Malcolm Mcadie. “It’s like sending your kids off to university.”

“It’s great to see them and wide eyes as they look at the big wide world,” said Mike Lester of the Marmot Recovery Foundation.

“They’ve only seen the inside of a cage until now and after a year of life, they’re seeing what natural habitat can look like. They were trying out new plants and new foods.”

Remarkably while the Vancouver Island marmots were born and raised in a zoo, biologists say their natural instincts will kick in right away and help protect them interior new wild environment.

“They know how to be marmots,” said McAdie. “They know what to eat, they recognize predators as well and they know to go into hibernation and it’s really a matter of how well they can put all that together to get through this first year.”

In 2003, the critically-endangered species was down to just 22 animals in the wild. That’s when recovery efforts by the Marmot Recovery Foundation went into overdrive to save the species from extinction. Through breeding programs in Canadian zoos, habitat protection and releases, the species is coming back from the brink.

“In just 15 years,” said Sheila Malcolmson. “And now we think there are close to 200 so that’s a real conservation success story but also still lots of work still to do.”

Skye Ryan