Vancouver Island Marmots at risk after winter die off

As many as 30 of the critically endangered Vancouver Island Marmots may have died through the dry winter in their natural habitat, putting the already small population at higher risk.

The CBC this week reported that as the marmots awake from hibernation, implanted transmitters should begin pinging, notifying their guardian angels at the Marmot Recovery Foundation (MRF). But for 30 tagged marmots in the Strathcona region, the pinging never began – and that could mean they did not survive the winter.

Fewer than 300 Vancouver Island Marmots are known to be alive today, and the attempt to keep the dwindling population afloat is a constant struggle. Last year, the MRF released 5 captive-bred marmots into the wild to great fanfare. The setback of losing 30 could be catastrophic to the population.

"It may be that the foliage that the marmots really relied on in the fall was in really poor condition or not available and that when they went into hibernation, they didn't have the body reserves that they needed to survive," Adam Taylor with the MRF told the CBC.

An additional 13 marmots that were captive bred at the Calgary Zoo are scheduled to be released into the wild next week, which could help buoy the population.

Currently, teams are searching for the bodies of the marmots that may have died so necropsies can be performed to determine accurate causes of death.

It is frightening to see a distinct species constantly on the precipice of survival and extinction. But it is with great hope that The Fur-Bearers will continue to watch the work of the Marmot Recovery Foundation, learn from their challenges, and support their efforts however possible.

Photo ofVancouver Island Marmot provided by the Marmot Recovery Foundation

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