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Learn About Marmots August 01, 2005 5:16 PM

Vancouver Island Marmot Latin name: Marmota vancouverensis Taxonomic group: Mammals (terrestrial) Risk category: Endangered Range: BC Year of designation: 2000 For thousands of years, the Vancouver Island marmot has lived in the mountains of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. This housecat-sized ground squirrel is now extremely rare. The British Columbia ministry responsible for wildlife has designated it as Endangered under the British Columbia Wildlife Act. The Vancouver Island marmot is also listed as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Separated from other marmots on the mainland of North America, the Vancouver Island marmots developed into a distinct species (Marmota vancouverensis). They are different from their continental cousins in a number of ways: their colouring (a rich chocolate brown with white muzzle, chest and abdomen), their vocalizations (they whistle like no other marmot!), and many of their habits. Vancouver Island marmots live at an altitude of between 900 and 1400 metres. Many have established their colonies (social groups of one or a few families) in areas which are steep and relatively inaccessible to humans. The colonies are so remote from human habitation that most people who live on Vancouver Island have never seen a marmot. The Vancouver Island marmots’ natural habitat consists of small mountain meadows, many of which were formed by avalanches or fire. The marmots dig their homes (underground burrows) in the deep soil, perch on the surrounding rocks to watch out for predators, and eat the grasses, herbs and flowering plants growing there. And boy, can they eat! All summer long they pack away the food, preparing their bodies for their next activity – seven months of hibernation. When they emerge from hibernation in the spring, two important things happen. Adult Vancouver Island marmots mate and produce litters of 3 or 4 pups. And some “teenage” marmots (aged 2 or 3) leave their colony to find a mate. They travel down their home mountains and cross over to a neighbouring peak. If they can’t find a potential mate on one mountaintop, they’ll explore other mountains until they find one. Many Vancouver Island marmots have covered scores of kilometers conducting these searches. In the 1970’s forestry companies started clearcut logging at high elevations on Vancouver Island. Because these areas were very much like their natural habitat: wide open spaces, lots of soil to dig in, stumps to use as lookout posts; the wandering marmots started setting up colonies in the high clearcuts. By the mid-1980’s more than half of the world’s Vancouver Island marmots lived in these man-made habitats. They seemed to thrive. Early counts (1979-1986) conducted by government personnel, naturalists, hunters and loggers showed a doubling of the population. Between 1982 and 1986 they counted 235 marmots in different colonies. But in the late 1980’s, the population of Vancouver Island marmots began to decline dramatically. In 1988, representatives of federal and provincial wildlife agencies, universities, forest companies and conservation organizations formed a scientific Recovery Team. The objective: to save the Vancouver Island marmot from extinction. By observing footprints and scat, Recovery Team researchers began to suspect that the logging roads and newly-cleared mountainsides gave land-based predators (wolves and cougars) easy access to the higher elevations where the marmots lived. They also noticed that golden eagles were hunting high elevation clearcuts; something they had been unable to do at any other time in history. Counts done by Recovery Team field crews between 1994 and 1998 turned up only 71 to 103 animals in the areas where there had been over 200 less than a decade before. The Recovery Team soon realized that the population of Vancouver Island marmots had become so small and widely-scattered, they simply could not find mates. The Team concluded that without active human intervention (captive breeding followed by reintroduction back into the wild), the species would become extinct. There was virtually no possibility that Vancouver Island marmots would recover on their own. Scientists in Russia and France provided the Recovery Team with some important and useful guidance. They had worked with the marmot species found in their parts of the world; breeding them in captivity and releasing them back into their local mountains. The Vancouver Island marmot captive breeding programme was started in 1997 and, in 1998, the Marmot Recovery Foundation (MRF), a registered charity, was formed to solicit funds, increase public awareness, and run the day-to-day business of the recovery project. 1998 was also the year that the population of Vancouver Island marmots plummeted to an all-time low of about 75 individuals. Since then, thanks to the success of the captive breeding programme, the numbers have slowly increased. At the time of writing (early September 2004), there are 93 Vancouver Island marmots in four captive breeding facilities and roughly 35 living in the wild. The breeding facilities are found in the Toronto Zoo, the Calgary Zoo, the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley, BC and at the MRF-funded Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre on Vancouver Island. This healthy, growing captive population is robust enough to provide animals for annual releases back to the wild. The ultimate goal is to restore a sustainable population of 400-600 Vancouver Island marmots in the wild, so there’s still much to be done. None of this painstaking recovery work would be possible without the help of the government of British Columbia, forestry and other industries, non-government organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, and the general public. The Marmot Recovery Foundation n  [ send green star]
 
 August 03, 2005 5:41 AM

Thanks for posting! I pinned it!  [ send green star]
 
 August 14, 2005 10:03 AM

Sandra McCulloch Times Colonist Vancouver Island marmot September 19, 2004 Imagine a babysitting job where your two-year-old charges take off for other communities and you have two boys who fight constantly over a girl while predators hover nearby, waiting for an opportunity to devour them. That pretty much wraps up the challenges faced by 21-year-old Jackie Churchill and Crystal Reid, 25, who spent most of each week this summer at Haley Bowl, southwest of Nanaimo, chasing after juvenile Vancouver Island marmots. They’re camping at the end of a logging road that is rocky as a riverbed. The only sound of civilization they hear is the whine of logging equipment farther up the valley. A female named Haida and males Onslo and Dylan are among six captive born marmots released to Haley Bowl in early July. Haida and Onslo stayed put. Dylan left for a while and explored the area only to return and fight with Onslo over Haida’s affections. A female named Denai left the area and travelled eight kilometres to Green Mountain. A male, Macumba, followed. Newman headed off to Buttle Mountain, 10 kilometres away, where he is living by himself. Shepherd Crystal Reid monitors a marmot’s heart rate. Transmitters are lodged in the bellies of the beast. Photos by Darren Stone/Times Colonist While the wandering is upsetting for the marmot shepherds, this behaviour does not surprise scientists. Marmot researcher Andrew Bryant said the two-year-olds, even though they were born in captivity, acted like their wild-born kin, “doing what marmots do, seeking out new territory.” The marmots are tracked with the help of radio transmitters implanted in their bellies. Collars can’t be used because the rodents grow too fast, said Bryant in an interview en route to Haley Bowl. He took a Times Colonist reporter and photographer for a visit to one of the oldest known colonies of the endangered Vancouver Island marmot. The animals were first recorded at the site in 1915 and at their peak, they numbered 30 to 35 animals. The last wild marmots died there in 1999, so the release this summer of captive-born young was significant. “I was proud to be able put marmots back here five years after extinction of the colony,” Bryant said. The oldest record of the Vancouver Island marmot goes back 16,000 years — meaning they survived the ice age that wiped out the mountain goat and other species once here. “The marmots managed to hang on by their toenails,” said Bryant. Just keeping the three reintroduced young at Haley Bowl happy and healthy until hibernation is a full-time job and a major worry for Churchill and Reid. “I heard of the job from a teacher,” said Churchill, who earned a biology degree from Malaspina College in Nanaimo. “I thought, ‘what could be better than go following cute little fuzzy things around as opposed to working at a gas station.’ ” They camp out in any of a handful of tents scattered around the site, where battery-powered radios blast day and night with noise to scare away bears or cougars. They get paid $16 an hour, but they’ve already used up their allotment of 623 hours of their contract and are working for free until a new contract is drafted. They dry socks over the defroster vents of the half-ton pickup that goes with the job. Cold is a constant companion. There are no flush toilets, no showers, and you can easily twist an ankle tramping through the bush. Between the spells of panic when the marmots seem to vanish, a lull of boredom settles in. An eagle hovering overhead recently prompted Churchill to fire off noisemakers, a non-lethal deterrent. The women don’t even have a firearm to protect themselves from the wildlife. They rely on vigilance, noise and their own wits to stay safe. The best way to keep marmots safe from predators is by having humans nearby, said Bryant. That lesson was learned at another colony when, a short time after humans left, a cougar moved in and killed marmots. The natural population swings of predators and marmots now bode well for the rodents, said scientist Rick Page. “For the last 10 years we’ve had a massive increase in the numbers of wolves and cougars on the Island and with fewer and fewer deer, they’ve been hunting the marmots. But naturally the numbers (of predators) are going to go down anyway. You’ll find that no matter if the predators are hunted and trapped — and they’re not — it does appear that the numbers have gone done now. “There are no wolves in this valley this summer and we haven’t seen any cougar up here either.” The predators will likely move out of marmot habitat to hunt, which is good news for the marmots, Page said. “I think the worst is over. By the time this natural decline (of predators) occurred, if we hadn’t intervened the marmot would probably have been extinct. With moving marmots around and having the captive breeding program, the marmots have a chance to rebound. The predator problem may have taken care of itself.” Scientist Rick Page pauses near one of the marmot-watchers’ camps. “The worst is over ” for the rodents, he believes. Photos by Darren Stone/Times Colonist Of course, the marmots under the shepherds’ watch have no sense of their own vulnerability. Watching them at play is entertaining, say Churchill and Reid. “Onslo is sort of pushy — he wants Haida for himself,” said Reid, who has a degree in psychology. “They get into some good scraps, those two.” Churchill said, “I saw them fighting, rolling down the hill together.” Marmots love to wrestle with each other even when there’s no female involved. It’s playful bonding behaviour. Which brings us to the best part of being a marmot shepherd, watching marmots being marmots. And the worst part of the job? “Sitting out in the cold like this — the weather can really drain you,” said Churchill on a day when the clouds swirled in the valle  [ send green star]
 
 August 14, 2005 10:06 AM

ley, the dampness creeping through all layers of clothing. Oh, and there are bears. “I was flossing my teeth and I could hear one breathing right below me,” said Reid. Fortunately, the beast was more hungry for berries than humans. The marmots were elusive on the day the press came to call. Their radio beacons are programmed to sound only between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to prolong the life of the implanted batteries. So an attempt at 5:15 p.m. to locate the marmots using hand-held antennas was unsuccessful. However, a scan with binoculars of their usual hangouts picked up Dylan a few hundred metres away, standing on a rock. He saw the group of people standing on the side of a hill but he never whistled in alarm. “They’re getting used to us,” said Churchill. “They haven’t whistled at us for like two months or so.” Nine captive-born marmots were released to the old colonies of Vancouver Island this season. The others included two females, Virginia and Hayley, let go on Mount Washington. Four-year-old male Landalt was set free on Heather Mountain where he bred with the lone female living there. The welcome result was a litter of pups. Aside from the release of captive-born animals, 11 pups were born in the wild and three animals died. That’s a net gain of 17 animals in the mountain colonies like Haley Bowl  [ send green star]
 
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