Vancouver Island marmot: is there still time to save it?



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Vancouver Island marmot: is there still time to save it?

The Vancouver marmot can be easily distinguished from other marmot species primarily by its reddish-brown coloration with small white spots. No other marmot species inhabit Vancouver Island. These marmots are classified as critically endangered.

The captive breeding project is continuously growing, with 130 individuals in captivity in 2010 and 442 pups born in captivity since 2000. Some individuals have been released into the wild in order to increase the natural population.

With the loss of open alpine landscapes under the influence of warmer temperatures, the survival rates and reproductive patterns of these marmots are adversely affected. In 2003, the Vancouver marmot population plummeted to an ever low level of just 30 individuals.

Realizing the urgency of the situation, the country's conservation authorities decided to capture wild animals and breed them in captivity to boost their numbers . Large numbers of the animals were then moved to the Toronto Zoo, Vancouver Zoo, and other facilities around the country for captive breeding.

The success of this program has led to the increase in the wild marmot population to approximately 250 to 300. This species of marmot appears to have evolved rapidly from the receding glacier about 10,000 years ago, reaching a length of 56-70 cm and a weight ranging from 3 kg in females when they emerge from hibernation to 7 kg in males before hibernation, females before hibernation weigh about 4.5-5.5 kg.

Vancouver marmots live in groups and are strictly vegetarian, feeding on more than 30 species of plants. The duration of hibernation in these marmots depends on the characteristics of the habitat and climatic conditions, in wild populations hibernation lasts about 210 days, generally from the end of September or the beginning of October until the end of April or the beginning of May.

Captive specimens generally hibernate for shorter periods. These marmots generally begin breeding around three to four years of age, although two-year-olds capable of breeding have been observed. The Vancouver marmot breeds soon after awakening from hibernation, gestation lasts 30 to 35 days.

Females normally have three to four pups at a time, females with pups usually emerge from hibernation around the beginning of July.