Meet the Marmot Neighbours!
Since 1997, conservationists have been working to recover the species, whose numbers had once dipped even lower. “At its lowest point, there were less than 30 marmots left in the wild,” says Adam Taylor, Executive Director of the Marmot Recovery Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to recover the wild population of this uniquely Canadian species, and as Taylor notes, the epicenter of those recovery efforts has been at Mount Washington.
“There were just a handful of colonies left when we restarted reintroducing marmots in 2004, including the one here at Mount Washington.” In fact, the Mount Washington colony was the largest wild colony left, a claim that the mountain continues to hold. “There are so many marmots here compared to the rest of the Island,” laughs Taylor, “they are like their own little community on the Mountain.”
Like any small town, there are some characters among the marmots at Mount Washington. “Our team spends enough time at the colony each year that we think we know all the marmots by name, though we definitely know some of them better than others,” says Mike Lester, Field Coordinator for the Foundation. Which marmot stands out for the team responsible for caring them?
At 12, Nicola is the oldest wild Vancouver Island Marmot known, and impressively, she continues to produce pups. Nicola is nearly blind, and is easily identified by her milky white left eye. In her younger years, Nicola was known for adventuring, sometimes ending up in the Village before being relocated to her home on the Hill.
Violet has successfully hibernated straight through every one of her four Groundhog Days to date. Lester says they have chosen to interpret this as a sign of early spring, something which Vancouver Island is known for.
While Hollis still lives on Mount Washington, many of her pups have been relocated into Strathcona Provincial Park, where they have played an important in re-introducing this species to some of the wilderness space that it historically inhabited. “Hollis has been a fantastic mom, and I always hope to see her with pups in the summer,” notes Lester.
Clearly, Macallan belongs at Mount Washington. At a year old, he was relocated to the Albert Edward colony in Strathcona, but shortly after he disappeared. While Foundation staff feared he had perished, it turns out he had been making a long journey back home. “It’s a pretty incredible journey he made,” says Taylor, “the region is a wilderness of peaks, valleys, lakes, and forest. He clearly wants to be here, and we won’t try moving him again.”
Born at the Calgary Zoo, Arwen was released to Mount Washington in 2017. Since then, she has become a fixture of the Hill’s slopes, often hanging about on rocks and berms a safe distance from observers.
“Arwen is one of the more regular marmots we see,” explains Lester, “she likes to keep an eye on us I think; to make sure we’re not up to anything too shifty.”
These are just a few of the approximately 40 marmots that live at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. While adorable and chock full of personality, they are also playing a critical role in recovery of their species.
“Marmots thrive at Mount Washington. The partnership we have with the Resort and the people that live and work here continues be hugely important to this species’ recovery. For instance, the marmot friendly plants the slopes have been seeded with have helped ensure there is plenty of food for the marmots.
”Similarly, people coming to recreate at the Resort during the summer are actually helping the marmots by scaring away predators that might otherwise predate on them,” says Taylor.
So long as visitors are respectful of the marmots, people and marmots can be a good fit. “Obviously there are places that we don’t want marmots. Anywhere near roads, the Village, or Lodges for instance, where cars and dogs might pose hazards. If you see a marmot, please let us know as soon as possible.”
You are not likely to see a marmot during the winter however. From November to May, the marmots are in hibernation, dug down in burrows dug two meters or more into the soil and insulated by snow. But during the summer, visitors can see marmots on the ski slopes. Look for the house cat sized animals on rocks, logs, and stumps - anywhere they can get a good view of their surroundings.
If do you see a marmot, please do not get too close. If the marmot stands up, it is alert to perceived danger, and it is best to take a few steps back. If the marmot does run into a burrow, just leave the area quietly so it can resume feeding as soon as possible.
Regardless, the Marmot Recovery Foundation is always interested in hearing reports of marmots, and pictures are encouraged.
Send your sightings to email@example.com or call 250 390-0006.