‘Hunch’ leads to discovery of new endangered Vancouver Island marmot colony


In mid-August Kevin Gourlay of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation was spending five days in the mountains of Strathcona Park doing an inventory of known marmot colonies when he discovered a new one.

“I found a new marmot colony, three or four adults all untagged, there was a yearling further up the hill and there are seven or eight pups,” he can be seen saying on video while still on top of the mountain west of Buttle Lake.

He and a partner were in Marble Meadows when, on a hunch, he went into a different gully and heard a tell-tale marmot whistle.

“So I kind of got into the base of this gully and looked up and it was quite comical,” Gourlay told CHEK News. “There was a whole bunch of little heads poking out of holes in the ground and it was hard to tell exactly how many marmots were there. There was another warning whistle and they went scattering all over the place.”

This particular marmot is endemic to Vancouver Island and has been here for about 740,000 years, however, due to habitat loss, there were only 26 left in 2003.

Now, thanks to captive breeding programs at the Tony Barrett Mt. Washington Marmot Recovery Centre, Mountain View Conservation Centre (a private facility in Langley) as well as at the Toronto Zoo and Calgary Zoo there are over 200.

Another colony was discovered in Strathcona Park this year as well as one in the Nanaimo Lakes area.

“We’ve been waiting 20 years to start seeing this and it’s really neat to see,” said Adam Tayor, Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation Executive Director.

Strathcona Park has proven to be a difficult place to reintroduce marmots because they have to dig massive burrows deep into mountainsides to hibernate in the winter and find enough food to build up the fat layers they need for hibernation.

The marmots also have to evade hungry predators.

“It’s still a very fragile population so we’re talking about 200 to 250 animals and that’s rarer than Siberian Tigers, rarer than Mountain Gorillas, this is still one of the rarest mammals on the planet,” added Taylor.

Gourlay only joined the Foundation in May and has already made a discovery that could lead to a more promising future for Vancouver Island Marmots.

You can learn more about the marmots and donate to the Foundation here.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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