Marmota vancouverensis

Vancouver Island Marmot

The Vancouver Island marmot is endemic to Vancouver Island, Canada—it occurs nowhere else in the world. It is often described as Canada’s most endangered mammal.

Top Photo: Oli Gardner

 

The situation

A uniquely Canadian species

Vancouver Island marmot populations declined precipitously in the 1990s, as habitat fragmentation and alteration led to increased predation in their formerly isolated habitats. By 2003, approximately 30 individuals remained in the wild. Subsequent captive breeding and reintroduction efforts prevented the imminent extinction of the species, but it remains Endangered and is threatened by ongoing habitat alteration, predation, and climate change.

Returning marmots to their mountain home

The Wilder Institute has been involved in Vancouver Island marmot conservation efforts since 1998 and is one of three facilities breeding marmots for release in the wild. We work together with the Marmot Recovery Foundation to release marmots born at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo on Vancouver Island. Over 500 captive-bred marmots have been released in the wild and thanks to our combined efforts, the wild Vancouver Island marmots population has grown to over 200.

Our work

Our current research is focused on strategies for increasing survival and reproduction of marmots in the wild.

Our field-based study seeks to determine if providing additional food during the active season can offset the resource-related factors that limit marmot population growth. Specifically, we are testing if food supplementation will increase the body condition of adult females and pups, increase litter sizes, and ultimately improve survival and population growth rates.

We are also conducting a captive-based study to determine whether marmots born in captivity can distinguish between predators, like cougars and golden eagles, from non-predators, like ungulates, and exhibit appropriate anti-predator behaviour. If captive bred marmots aren’t wary of predators, better measures will be needed to prepare them for release in the wild.

Conservation breeding

The Wilder Institute is one of only three facilities that breed Vancouver Island marmots for release in the wild. We work together with the Marmot Recovery Foundation, which releases marmots born at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo on Vancouver Island and monitors their movements and survival.

Our conservation impact

Together with our partners at Marmot Recovery Foundation and in collaboration with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) we worked to identify the optimal release strategies for wild and captive-born marmots. This collaborative effort found that a stepping-stone approach increases the survival of captive-born marmots in the wild. Using this approach, marmots are initially released at a relatively safe marmot colony, where they experience their first wild hibernation. The following year, they are translocated to their final home. Read more about this approach here.

Did you know?

Vancouver Island marmots are one of the largest members of the squirrel family measuring about 65-70 cm nose to tail and weighing 4.5 – 7.5 kg — the same size as an average house cat!

Why do marmots whistle? To raise the alarm. Their distinct whistle is called a “Keaw”

Teamwork

We would like to thank the following partners and collaborators for working with us in helping conserve the Vancouver Island marmot:

Footprint background
Footprint background

The collaborative research being done through this program received Top Honours for the 2022 AZA Research Award

This research has been essential to improve the management and survival rates of Vancouver Island marmots born at other institutions and at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo after they have been released to their native range on Vancouver Island. This research incorporated separate studies on genetics, animal behaviour, and ecology to align with a novel ‘stepping-stone’ approach that allows released marmots to learn wild behaviours in a safe, interim site, before being released to their final wild home. Thank you to all the collaborators, co-authors, and supporters who helped make this research possible.

IUCN Species Survival Commission, Conservation Translocation Specialist Group
Marmot Recovery Foundation
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
University of Alberta, Department of Biological Sciences
University of California, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of New England, School of Environmental and Rural Science
University of Victoria, Island Medical Program
University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) & School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS)
U.S. Geological Survey
Vancouver Island University
Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Join the movement

Incredible successes can be achieved when we work together.

With your support, we can help create a wilder world for the Vancouver Island marmot. Join our donor community and take action for wildlife today!

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