Coming off a record year of pups born in the wild, the endangered Vancouver Island marmot is having another record year – this time with pups born in captivity.
Adam Taylor, executive director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation, says between the three breeding facilities there will be 50 marmot pups to release in the spring.
“Those marmots actually had a record number of pups,” Taylor said in an interview with CHEK News. “This coming year in 2023, we’re anticipating releasing 50 marmots to the wild which is incredible.”
In 2021, the foundation released 25 marmots into the wild and having double that number means the foundation has to figure out how the release will work.
“We’ve been spending a good part of this winter just figuring out how to do this, like how do we actually release 50 marmots to the wild?” Taylor asked. “It’s a problem we’ve been dying to have, so we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
As for marmots in the wild, Taylor says the official count is not yet complete.
“We do not have an official account for 2022 yet, you’re gonna have to wait till after Christmas break,” Taylor said.
“So the holdup right now is we’re just we’re reviewing all of that tens-of-thousands, hundreds-of-thousands of pictures taken by remote wildlife cameras through the summer. So we go through every single image trying to identify each marmot that’s in the image and then try and put that together to get a final count for the end of the year.”
The foundation is working to prevent the species from extinction, with it reaching a low of 31 Vancouver Island marmots in the wild in 2003, the population has grown to 258 in 2021, after reaching a peak in 2013 of 346.
Though the count is not finished yet, Taylor says it looks like the adult population from last year is steady from the year before. As for the marmot pups, Taylor says there were fewer born in the wild this year than last.
“We think that’s because of a combination of things. One, we had a record number of pups last year, which is fantastic, but marmots tend to breed every other year. So having a bit of a dip in the number of pups isn’t a huge surprise,” Taylor said.
“But then we combine that with having a really late long snowpack this year, so when marmots are emerging from hibernation they’re often digging out through meters of snow and then travelling to look through little snow free patches where they can access vegetation, but this year, those snow free patches just didn’t exist.”
Taylor says when the marmots emerged from hibernation they were relying on “desperation” foods like tree bark, which they only eat when they’re really hungry.
“We did try and provide supplemental food, but my guess is that that contributed to slightly poor body condition,” Taylor said. “Even though the adults were able to survive through that, for the most part, it just didn’t leave the females with good enough body reserves, fat reserves, to be able to support weaning young and caring for young for two months.”
In order for the foundation to do its work, Taylor says it relies on donations and support from others to help raise awareness of the species.
One upcoming project to help raise awareness is an upcoming book by Catherine Babault.
After moving to the Island 10 years ago, Babault has learned about the species and has hoped for an opportunity to put a spotlight on the animal. Her book, Vancouver Island Marmot, The World’s Rarest Marmot, is set to be released on Dec. 21 and is her way of doing that.
The book, which contains 89 pictures, has information written about the marmot by Babault and experts, including Taylor.
“I want to show the marmot in its natural environment, and also for people to learn more about the biology of the marmot, the research that is being done, and all the efforts that has happened for the past over 25 years now,” Babault said in an interview with CHEK News.
Babault went out over several months in summer 2021 to be able to capture pictures of the marmot.
“These pictures in particular were taken over one summer because I don’t like to disturb wildlife too much, so I avoid going there all the time,” she said.
“But on that in that particular summer, I went regularly there between June and September, this is the active period, so I went regularly to a particular colony. And that’s how I saw the little ones that pups going out of the burrow for the first time and exploring their environment playing and it was a it was really nice to observe it from a respectful distance, of course.”