Great New Developments on "Marmot Mountain"

There's a saying that faith can move mountains. In the case of the Vancouver Island Marmot, faith and a lot of hard work - has built a facility on TOP of a mountain, and Mount Washington Alpine Resort Ltd has had a lot to do with keeping that faith alive.

The Vancouver Island Marmot is a critically endangered species found only on Vancouver Island. At last count there were roughly 80 of these adorable critters left in the world. One colony is on Mount Washington, the others are on the mountains west of Nanaimo.

Research into the Marmots' plight led to the formation of a scientific recovery team, which soon realized that the only way to bring the animals back from the brink of extinction was to breed them in captivity then release them back into the wild. The Marmot Recovery Foundation (MRF) was formed in 1998 to finance and promote this recovery project.

Breeding centers were set up in the Toronto and Calgary Zoos and at Mountain View Farms in Langley, BC. MRF scientists calculated they would need to manage a captive population of 40-80 marmots over a 10-15 year period for the breeding and reintroduction program to succeed. It didn't take long to realize that an additional facility was essential.

Research revealed that, before the captive-bred Marmots were released back into their natural habitat, they needed to be acclimatized to natural environmental conditions (altitude, light levels, temperatures etc). This was to ensure released animals got the experience necessary to cope with local conditions. A "halfway house" was needed.

That's where Mount Washington Alpine Resort came in. A donation of land for a breeding facility was established. This donation was a huge shot in the arm for the Marmot Recovery Foundation, which went on to fundraise and oversee the building of the actual facility. The Vancouver Island captive breeding facility was completed in October, 2001 and the first Marmots were moved in on October 15th.

On June 7, 2002 the MRF held the official opening ceremony for the breeding facility. It was named the Tony Barrett Mount Washington Marmot Recovery Center, in memory of the Foundation's first Chief Financial Officer, who was instrumental in getting both the MRF and the building off the ground. Tony Barrett died tragically in the spring of 2002. His family and close friends attended the dedication ceremony, then joined over 100 people at a special reception in the resort's Alpine Lodge afterwards. Stakeholders large and small ' from the forestry giants Weyerhaeuser and TimberWest, to the Foundation's longest-running individual donor, Mrs. Daphne Smith of Nanaimo ' enjoyed the celebration.

The nine Marmot "residents" in the facility took the fuss in stride. They have recently been joined by "Jack", dubbed The Big Marmot Hope. This two year old male marmot has been transfered from the wild for a few weeks only in order to be introduced to "Gemini", a lovely young lady Marmot who was bred in captivity. Later this summer they will be released into a natural Marmot habitat and Jack is expected to teach Gemini how to function in the "real world". The MRF's field crew will be monitoring them closely to see how the first reintroduction proceeds.

Meanwhile, the wild Mt.Washington colony is thriving. The field crew estimates there are currently between six and ten marmots there; however, they won't know the precise number until they've done a number of thorough scientific counts.

When you visit Mount Washington, you're not able to see the Mount Washington Marmot Centre since the marmots need to be kept in quarantine from the public, but you are able to visit the Marmot Interpretive Center on the Marmot Floor of the Alpine Resort. There you will learn the history, plight and fight for survival of Canada's most endangered animal. Take the time to visit. You'll be glad you did.