The detection of a colony of marmots has delighted conservationists and researchers and indicates that they are on the road to recovery in certain areas. it was a complete colony of adults, pups, and yearling marmots in Strathcona Provincial Park. Executive director, Adam Taylor of the Vancouver Island Park said that they were thrilled at the sight they had been waiting for years.
The Vancouver Island variety of marmots was once common on the island. It survives in the open alpine regions high up in the mountains. Habitat loss has been the primary reason for their dwindling population in the past decades. a mere 27 individuals were counted in 2003.
Breeding programs have been a success and there are around 200 marmots in Canada. Such programs were done at Mount Washington, Calgary Zoo, and Toronto Zoo.
The newly discovered colony comprises between 10 and 12 marmots and is believed to have descended from the ones introduced a kilometer away in Marble Meadows.
Marmots Are Among The Largest Members Of The Squirrel Family
The Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis) are one of the largest among the squirrel family and grow to the size of a house cat. Squirrels, chipmunks, and woodchucks belong to the same family. Their brownish-black color with contrasting white shades on their chin, nose, chest, and forehead make them easily recognizable.
They have large teeth, strong claws, and strong legs and shoulders, which help them to dig deep burrows. They weigh up to 7.5 kilograms and lose a third of their weight during hibernation. Marmots spend a long time looking out for predators and spend only a few hours foraging for food. They have distinct whistles that have earned them the nickname of ‘whistle pig.’
Marmots generally move far from their birth colonies. But the Park is tough territory for the marmots. They need to build massive burrows for hibernating, that go down meters into the ground. They also need sufficient food to survive the winter. Predators remain a constant threat for the marmots.
Taylor said that the find was unexpected. They had been trying for a long to reintroduce the marmots into the wild from the breeding programs. Three fresh colonies have been found this year, but the marmots remain in the critically endangered category. The count continues to hover around 200.
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Climatic conditions have also been tough recently. Sustained droughts have withered away vegetation necessary for surviving the winter. Predators are also highly active in the fall months.
Taylor is hopeful that the marmot colonies continue to disperse successfully, moving across colonies, as it increases the chances of their survival. He says that the present stage is only a step towards their total recovery and there is still a long way to go.
The Discovery Of The New Marmot Colony
It was a hunch by a researcher of the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation that led to the discovery of the colony. Kevin Gourlay was spending time on the mountain of the park making a record of the known colonies of marmot when he stumbled upon a fresh one by chance.
He found traces of a new colony, a few adults, and moving up the valley they came across 7-8 pups and a yearling, close to the mountain top, near Buttle Lake. He was confronted by the endearing sight of a bunch of heads jutting out from the ground. But they soon scattered, and he could not count the numbers.
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Two more colonies have been discovered, one near four Nanaimo Lakes and another in Strathcona Park. The park is tough terrain for the marmots as they need to burrow deeper and food is scarce in the area. Taylor says that the numbers are too fragile to be excited, and they continue to be rarer than the Mountain Gorillas and the Siberian Tiger.